What a Cavaliers versus Celtics playoff series could look like

Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers
Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers / David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The miniseries versus the Boston Celtics produced zero wins, but the depleted Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t go quietly either night. The Wine and Gold had some encouraging moments - Donovan Mitchell ripping through coverages, Darius Garland lighting up point-of-attack defenders and Caris LeVert returning to form. Yet, the Cavs couldn’t compensate for the absence of their most important connector and defender, Evan Mobley.

Currently, Boston is the class of the East, and Cleveland is a stumbling group trying to find its footing. However, at season’s end, there’s a possibility these groups get matched up in the playoffs.

But how would a potential series go between the Cavaliers and Celtics?

On Tuesday, after holding the Celtics to 21 points through the first quarter, Cleveland was shredded in the next three for 99 points. Thursday, Cleveland got boat raced on the break, couldn’t stop Boston on the offensive glass and never led. Over both matches, the visitors gave up 60 percent of attempts in the paint.

Without Mobley, Cleveland was missing someone who can switch outside to bother Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown while Jarrett Allen tags Kristaps Porzingis. Additionally, his length defending pick-and-roll in the drop is a serious deterrent against anyone turning the screen to the rim.

Tuesday, most of the minutes guarding Tatum went to Max Strus, holding him to one of four shots in five minutes. Thursday, Tatum converted just 40 percent of his tries, but Jaylen Brown continued to be the more problematic cover, hurting Cleveland from all areas. In consecutive games, Brown registered 20 of 37 ventures.

Jrue Holiday hasn’t been used enough as a scorer in Boston’s offense, but in limited looks with Spida checking him, he found the opening he searched for despite missing some Tuesday. Thursday, he eluded Mitchell by diving to the hoop after a screen and cutting back door. Mitchell is depended on for scoring but must find extra juice to stick closer to guards.

Yet, as a whole, the Cavaliers can’t concede 31 of 80 3-pointers in two games and hope to lead the series or tie it. The Celtics feasted from deep because of miscommunication, overhelping off the wings, mismatch hunting, and Cleveland wrongfully going to a zone.

On the other side, Spida, DG and LeVert carried the unit. Yet, Mitchell was contained in the second half Thursday to one of six makes from the field, Garland logged 20 percent of attempts in the fourth, and LeVert wasn’t aggressive after blowing by Tatum for a layup.

Strus also took just four shots in the second encounter after downing five of 11 triples two nights earlier. He must be more assertive, looking for opportunities, but head coach J.B. Bickerstaff can’t let a weapon like him rest on safety mode.

The Mobley factor

Is fixing the late-game inefficiency as simple as inserting Mobley back in the lineup? At this stage, not quite for all teams, but Boston has a suspect interior presence after KP, and on offense, Mobley would create extra help at close range, opening up the outside. At less than five feet from the basket, he converts 72.2 percent of his tries.

When Cleveland’s frontcourt is healthy, Porziņģis will probably guard J.A. because he is less polished. This allows Mobley to attack mismatches facing up, hovering by the dunker spot or diving on the roll. Furthermore, his increased usage as a playmaker out of handoffs or running the break post-defensive rebound is an edge, too.

On the glass, Cleveland picked up 15 offensive rebounds without its top boardman (Mobley) and averaged 14.5 second-chance points in the losses. Cleveland did well in this department but could add more if Mobley is next to Allen.

Final word

Cleveland’s final meeting with Boston is on March 5. Hopefully, the Cavaliers are healthy then to use the game as a measuring stick against the East’s top outfit. In a potential series or regular season matchup with Boston, Mobley is Cleveland’s most important player because he gets others open and allows orchestrators to make easy reads by getting open. And his wide-ranging defensive skill set is truly invaluable.

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Reading this matchup was like trying to evaluate two boxers when one’s hand breaks in the early rounds. The public needs a rematch to learn more about what these teams can do against each other.