Game Night Observations: Another poor start, too many turnovers, and Mitchell carrying the load
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Danny Cunningham covers the Cleveland Cavaliers for 850 ESPN Cleveland and TheLandOnDemand.com
The Cleveland Cavaliers played arguably their worst game of the season on Wednesday night in Sacramento against the Kings. Cleveland fell 127-120 on the road to drop to 8-3 on the season.
In an 82-game season, teams are bound to have clunkers, and this was unquestionably one for the Cavs. With that said, there are some concerning signs not just from Wednesday night in Sacramento, but the trip out west as a whole.
For the third time in the last three games, the Cavs have struggled defensively early, allowing more than 60 points in the first half. Aside from the second half against the Lakers on Sunday afternoon, the Cavaliers haven’t been good on the defensive end of the floor since heading out west.
There have been several issues, but this one might be the most concerning. The Cavs have shown at plenty of times during this young season that they’re capable of being a top five defense in the NBA. On the interior, that remains true, but on the perimeter the Cavs haven’t been good enough.
Between Monday night against the Clippers and Wednesday against the Kings, opponents have shot a combined 34-of-77 (44.1%) from 3-point range against the Cavs. Both LA and Sacramento made 17 3-point attempts in wins over the Cavs. Part of that can certainly be attributed to luck. Some nights, teams have good shooting nights, and it is what it is. But even factoring that in, the Cavs have been giving up good looks to opponents lately. Even against the Lakers on Sunday, the defense on the outside wasn’t stellar, but Los Angeles is one of the worst shooting teams in basketball, so it didn’t matter as much.
Time will tell – as will a deeper dive later this week – just how much of this is luck based and how much of it is poor defense, but either way it’s a big reason why the Cavs lost on Wednesday night.
Too many turnovers
It’s not often that the Cavs will lose games in which they shoot over 53% from the floor and over 42% from beyond the arc as they did on Wednesday.
Having twice as many turnovers as the opponent will certainly help to make that possible. Caris LeVert turned the ball over five times, Darius Garland had four of his own, and Donovan Mitchell had a trio of giveaways. The 18 turnovers tied a season-high for the Cavaliers and led to 18 points for Sacramento.
The turnovers were especially costly in the third quarter for Cleveland. The Cavs started off the quarter making their first 13 field goal attempts and they would ultimately make 15-of-17 in the quarter. Typically, when that happens, it’s a great thing for that team. On Wednesday night, the Cavs only outscored the Kings 35-28 in the third quarter despite the unconscious shooting from the floor. That’s partially due to poor defense, but also attributed to the fact the team turned the ball over seven times in the period.
The Cavs had an opportunity to feel good about themselves trailing by just one, if not leading, heading into the fourth quarter. Instead, Cedi Osman turned the ball over in the final few seconds of the quarter, leading to an open 3-point attempt by Sacramento’s Trey Lyles that beat the buzzer and put the Kings up 97-93. Careless mistakes by Cleveland led that those types of moments too often to win.
Donovan Mitchell, still great
For all the bad things that happened in this game, it’s relatively remarkable it was as close as it was. There are a couple of reasons for that, but none of those reasons were bigger than the play of Mitchell. He, once again, was the best player on the floor, finishing with a game-high 38 points on 16-of-28 shooting and six made 3-pointers.
Whenever the Cavs need something, Mitchell is very clearly the guy to get things done. After falling behind by as many as 15 points in the third quarter, it was Mitchell’s offense in that period that made this a game. In the third quarter alone, Mitchell scored 17 points on a perfect 7-of-7 shooting from the floor.
The Cavs gave up quite a bit to acquire Mitchell via trade with the Utah Jazz near the end of the summer. It feels as if once or twice a week he makes it look like Utah didn’t get enough for him (no matter how great Lauri Markkanen has been). Mitchell has been every bit of a superstar for the Cavs. Given the injury to Garland the team dealt with earlier in the season, the Cavs would be closer to the bottom of the Eastern Conference than the top of it right now without Mitchell.
Speaking of Garland
Garland injured his knee in his first game back from missing time with a lacerated eye lid last Wednesday night against the Boston Celtics. He would finish the game that resulted in a Cavs overtime win. He then missed Friday night’s win over the Pistons with what the team deemed a knee sprain but has played in each of the last three games.
Against the Lakers, Garland came out with a strong first half, but didn’t make much noise in the second half. Against the Clippers on Sunday, Garland was underwhelming and turned the ball over five times. Wednesday, Garland didn’t have a good game, finishing with just six points and eight assists in 33 minutes. He was 1-of-9 from the floor and turned the ball over four times.
There’s no telling if Garland’s play is being impacted by the knee injury suffered last week, but his play in the last three games hasn’t been up to his standards.
A winning trip
After Friday’s win over the Pistons and Sunday’s victory over the Lakers, it looked as if Cleveland would be able to cruise to a winning road trip. Now, after losses to the Clippers and the Kings, the Cavs still have a chance to return to Cleveland with a winning record on the trip, but to make that happen, they’ll have to win on Friday night against the Golden State Warriors.
It's been quite some time since a game between the Cavs and the Warriors had any meaning, and this one doesn’t have a ton compared to games between these two franchises in a previous era of Cavs basketball. With that said, Friday in San Francisco should be a good test not only because it comes against the reigning NBA champions, but it will allow the world to see how the Cavs respond to losing back-to-back games for the first time all season.