Well, that was disappointing. The Cleveland Cavaliers headed to Beantown to add at least one early Christmas present under their tree, and to the win column this week, but instead they dropped both games to the Boston Celtics, including Thursday night in a 116-107 loss. It just continued an ongoing theme for the Cavs this season: faltering down the stretch.
The Cavs entered the fourth quarter down 90-87, but the Celtics went on a quick 7-0 run to start the period, and the Cavaliers played catch up for the rest of the game. It seemed like every time the Cavs would inch closer, and cut the lead to single digits, the Celtics would have an answer, and go up 10 points again. They couldn’t keep playing good basketball for long stretches in order to take the lead.
It was a night where the Cavaliers yet again came close to taking down the mighty Celtics, but they ultimately failed. This is now the Cavs’ third straight loss, after they started the month of December going 3-0. Now, they will have to bounce back from their latest early-season setback. Here are my two takeaways from the Cavs’ second loss to the Celtics.
No. 1: Evan Mobley is missed
Evan Mobley has been out for the past four games due to left knee soreness, and he has been severely missed. The Cavs have a record of 1-3 in the games Mobley has missed, and this is not all that surprising. This is because Mobley holds great importance on the defensive end of the floor, particularly in the paint, an area in which he has been tremendous in.
Mobley is near the top of the league in contested twos per game (eighth), threes (seventh), and total contested shots per game (sixth). The Celtics were able to generate a lot of easy looks inside, and get critical second chance opportunities, without the threat of Mobley to deter them from doing so. The Cavs also gave up 13 offensive boards, and while they do give up 11 per game on the season, that issue is only magnified without Mobley.
Finally, the Cavs sorely missed the big-to-big connection between Mobley and Jarrett Allen. Those two feed off each other on both ends of the floor, and their chemistry gives the Cavs an added layer to their team success. Their chemistry had been budding as well, as the Cavs rolled to a 9-4 record over their past 13 games. When one of them is off the court for an entire game, the Cavaliers as a whole take a hit. We saw it at the beginning of the year when Allen missed time with injury, and now we are seeing it with Mobley.
Hopefully Mobley can get back to full health soon, so the Cavs can get back on the roll they were on just last week.
No. 2: J.B. Bickerstaff’s stubbornness
At the beginning of the season, head coach J.B. Bickerstaff was bragging, and gushing about the Cavaliers newly-found depth. This was because of the additions of Max Strus and Georges Niang to the roster, for the most part it seemed. However, 25 games into the season, and the Cavs had kept a tight rotation most nights.
Yes, early on they dealt with injuries, and they had limited bodies to work with, but the team has been mostly healthy for the past few games. They have guys that can step up, and play meaningful minutes.
For example, on a night where Mobley is out, why is Tristan Thompson getting two minutes of action? Why are Donovan Mitchell and Jarrett Allen playing almost 40 minutes a game like it's the postseason? Why is Craig Porter Jr., a rotation gem that was found when the Cavs sorely needed a backup playmaker, glued to the bench like he is in the doghouse? Why isn’t Sam Merrill not getting at least some run on a night where the Cavs shot 33 percent from three? This all falls on Bickerstaff.
Do not get me wrong, he has done incredible work for this team over the past couple seasons. However, the reality is that the Cavs are 13-12, and he has not made the adjustments he should be making. He needs to rely on the depth that he has instead of running his players into the ground. If they do not right the ship soon, he could be on his way out.
The Cavaliers had a chance to see where they stood in the Eastern Conference hierarchy and the answer is clear: they are no match for the Celtics…for now. They still have time to grow as a team, and find their groove. They have very winnable games to end the month of December.
The Wine and Gold will definitely be looking for some holiday cheer.