CLEVELAND, Ohio – Scribbles in my notebook as the Cavaliers face the season’s biggest game of Friday at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse against the Atlanta Hawks:
1. Is anyone surprised by the 115-108 loss to Brooklyn in the first round of the play-in tournament? The Cavs are a young team. Brooklyn has two future Hall of Famers in Kevin Durrant and Kyrie Irving. It would have been nice to cut down on the Nets on their home field in a big match, but highly unlikely.
2. The disappointing part was being 40-20 behind at the end of the first quarter. The Cavs had just played against Brooklyn last week in Cleveland. In that match, they trailed 34-19 at the end of the first quarter. They actually took the lead in the third period but continued to lose 118-107.
In both games, miserable first quarter was the difference. It’s one of the few times this season where I have a few other guesses for the coaching staff. Get adjustments made between last week and Tuesday night, at least for the first quarter.
4. Getting Kevin Love off the bench all season was wise and it worked. Love played in 74 games, had his healthiest season since 2015-16 (77 games). In Tuesday’s loss, he had 14 points and 13 rebounds in 29 minutes. The Cavs surpassed the Nets by 10 points with Love on the field.
5. Time to start Love in the season’s biggest match – which is Friday. The Cavs need a good first quarter at home against the Hawks. How about a return to the big front line of Evan Mobley, Lauri Markkanen and Love starting for the injured Jarrett Allen? The team was built on size, it can Love help.
This is especially true when Isaac Okoro is suddenly completely lost. He played just 13 minutes against the Nets, missing all three wide-open 3-pointers from the corner. In March, Okoro averaged 9.3 points. He shot .510 from the field and .452 on 3-pointers. It is gone.
7. I do not count the end of the season home game vs. Milwaukee with where the Bucks rested all their starters. But in four other key games (two against Brooklyn, one against Philadelphia and Orlando), the defense has ignored Okoro. He has played 103 minutes in those games, scoring 11 points and shooting 3-for-11.
8. Some of Okoro’s minutes were to go to Lamar Stevens. In seven minutes, he scored seven points on 2-of-3 shooting Tuesday night. The problem is that the defense allows Okoro or Stevens to shoot from the outside, and both are fighting in that area. Stevens is playing with more confidence now.
9. I still like Okoro, reminding myself that he’s only 21 and that’s his second NBA season. We have been spoiled by the advent of Darius Garland and the amazing Mobley. The two young men were ready for Brooklyn. Garland had 34 points (13-of-24) and tried to make the offense. He had six turnovers because he sometimes dribbled into trouble vs. more defenders. But he’s only 22!
10. The 20-year-old Mobley has averaged 18 points, 7.0 rebounds and shot 54 percent in the two games against Brooklyn. He’s so ready. If you’re a Cavs fan, it’s exciting to see Garland and Mobley’s performance in these games. The best from them has really not come yet.
11. A big disappointment was Caris LeVert. He missed seven out of eight shots to open the match. He finished with 12 points on 4-of-12 shots. Usually he pulls errors, but was only 3-of-3 from the error line. Not many attempts. He often drove to the edge, was swarmed by the defense and put up a bad shot.
12. LeVert had a better overall game than I was aware of. He had seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals. LeVert is 27. He came in on Tuesday night after playing in nine post-season games in his career, averaging 20.7 points. He may be an effective goal scorer, but he is a driver and an intermediate shooter. Friday is huge for him.
13. Rajon Rondo had a decent game with eight points in 26 minutes. The Cavs surpassed Brooklyn by two points with him on the field. He had a team-high nine assists. But he is not a goal scorer. LeVert must help Garland in that area. Cedi Osman played 21 minutes, missed all four shots from the field and seemed overwhelmed. His inconsistency makes it hard to trust him in big fights.
14. Markkanen was matched with Kevin Durant, without purchase. It also pulled him away from the basket. He had just four rebounds and 13 points in 29 minutes. Markkanen has played well in the big April matches with an average of 18.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and shot 0.515 from the field.
15. It’s fun to write about the young Cavs in a big playoff game. Now let’s see how they react under the pressure.
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