Well, that was undoubtedly a basketball game of some sort.
After being outplayed 40-20 in the first quarter, the Cleveland Cavaliers found themselves chasing the Minnesota Timberwolves for the rest of the night. Despite trying their best, the Cavaliers couldn’t muster enough shot for shot in the game to keep up with the Timberwolves. Having Donovan Mitchell out there would have been something Cleveland would have enjoyed tonight. Unfortunately, Mitchell was out with a sprained ankle, which in turn hurt the Cavaliers quite badly on offense.
The Dazzling Darius Garland!
Cleveland star Darius Garland, looking a little off balance during the team’s lengthy road trip, was sensational tonight. Garland finished the game with a career-best 51 points and pretty much carried the Cavaliers back into that game.
If it weren’t for a missed defensive rebound opportunity and Kevin Love spinning the ball across the stretch on an inbounds game, Garland would have won that game for Cleveland. If anything, it’s a positive way to look forward to Wednesday when the Cavaliers take on the Bucks in Milwaukee. There was no comeback without Garland coming off.
the same old cavaliers
Aside from the spice, of the four games in their four-game losing streak, this was the most frustrating for the Cavaliers. Sure, they looked like a team in new uniforms just coming home from a long west coast road trip.
Speaking of new threads, they are… not bad? More than anything, it’s an acquired taste for what Cleveland is wearing to seven different occasions this season. I don’t quite understand how powder blue and taupe go with the Metroparks. If someone more fashion savvy than me wants to break it down for me, absolutely.
Unfortunately, the maiden voyage for the Cavs-Metroparks crossover was a bit of a dud. Maybe, despite her name, the woodWolves hate flora and fauna. To that I say there’s only one planet, man. Learn to love and cherish it before we destroy it forever.
A horse chestnut beating in Cleveland
Okay, back to actual basketball talk instead of fashion opinions.
How about Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell product? Early in that game, Russell was averaging 23.5 points on 44.3% shooting and 5.2 assists in 32.2 minutes per game. Tonight against Cleveland, Russell boosted those averages quite a bit. Russell finished the night with 29 points on 84.6% shooting and 12 assists.
Russell is a former All-Star and nights like this happen. But considering Russell is averaging just 13.2 points and 5.8 assists per game on similar shooting splits to his rookie season, he wasn’t Great not up to this point either. Russell used a pretty loose defense from Darius Garland or Isaac Okoro or whoever Cleveland hooked him up to. Whenever Russell blew past any of the aforementioned players, the absence of Jarrett Allen to co-exist with Evan Mobley on the sidelines made things even more chaotic for the Cavaliers on defense.
Sure, Cleveland understood the task and did a good job of defending Anthony Edwards, Minnesota’s top player. But it allowed Russell to get going and most of his damage came in the first quarter, where he didn’t miss a single try and scored 15 points. From there, it had a trickle-down effect on the rest of the Timberwolves on offense and the Cavaliers found themselves clawing and clawing the rest of the way.
There is currently no clear answer as to what the Cavaliers can do to fix such issues. But sloppy starts in the first quarter are becoming a recurring theme, and if Cleveland lacks offensive firepower like Mitchell, they’ll never be able to hit opponents shot after shot down the line. So I guess getting Mitchell back will make things a little bit easier. But that’s just putting a band-aid on a dam that’s about to rupture. JB Bickerstaff may need to tinker with his rotations.
Isaac Okoro: somewhat functional on offense!
For most of the season, it was fair to criticize Isaac Okoro. Cavaliers head coach JB Bickerstaff shared ahead of the regular season that the team had to offensively box Okoro last year. That meant Okoro didn’t have the freedom to learn and grow from his mistakes on the floor as Cleveland became a winning team after taking over Evan Mobley in the NBA draft. Looking ahead, Bickerstaff wanted Okoro to loosen up offense and become more of a full two-way player. Adding Mitchell to the herd certainly made that a lot easier for the Cavaliers as they added a warhead to their already formidable armament.
But before tonight’s game against the Timberwolves, Okoro looked like a ghost on offense. This in turn resulted in him receiving a severe reduction in minutes and players like Cedi Osman knocking him out of the rotation altogether on some nights. It seemed like Okoro never left the proverbial box on offense, and skepticism about a third-year offensive leap was widespread.
Mind you, skepticism isn’t going away anytime soon. But against Minnesota, Okoro sometimes showed a pulse on offense. He finished the night with 8 points on 3-4 shooting and also scored with his first three of the season after missing his first 12 attempts. The way Okoro scored was quite multifaceted and the Cavaliers found ways to give him great looks in different spots on the floor. When Cleveland dissects the movie of that game, they have to chop, chew, and digest, which was effective for Okoro on offense. Because if Mitchell is out for a while, the Cavaliers are going to need more of the same from Okoro.
Again, this is still a very small sample size in the grand scheme of this entire season. But more than anything, it’s somewhat encouraging overall. It makes Okoro feel a bit more comfortable on offense, which is something to wish for after such a bumpy start to the year. Cleveland needs Okoro to step up a bit on offense and become a player who can be a common thread on both ends of the floor. Until it happens, it will be something that fans and those covering the team are speculating about. With some of that newfound comfort, maybe Okoro can start turning corners on offense.
Next: The Cavaliers meet the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday. Tip off is at 8 p.m