Game Night Observations: A Battle Of The Backcourts And Back To Defensive Basics

Photo via

Photo via

Game Night Observations: A battle of the backcourts and back to defensive basics

You must have an active subscription to read this story.

Click Here to subscribe Now!

Danny Cunningham covers the Cleveland Cavaliers for 850 ESPN Cleveland and

The Cavaliers look like the Cavaliers again.

After Monday night’s 114-102 win over the Atlanta Hawks at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the five-game losing streak that caused some introspection for members of the team feels like it was years ago. During that stretch, nothing seemed to go right for the Cavs, especially on the defensive end.

Now, while still dealing with some unfortunate luck by way of injuries, the team looks more like the squad that won eight straight after a loss on opening night. The high-level of defense has returned, as the Cavs posted a defensive rating below their season average for the third consecutive game.

A team that spent the better part of 10 days searching for its identity appears as if it has gotten back to it. That’s been a big reason as to why the Cavs have won each of their last three games. It’s also a recipe to keep things afloat until the offense begins to fire on all cylinders.

On Monday night, the Cavs did a good job defensively on All-Star guards Dejounte Murray and Trae Young. Murray was held to 11 points on 4-of-17 shooting while Young scored a team-high 25 on 10-of-22 from the floor but just 1-of-8 from beyond the arc. Young also had six turnovers.

Lamar Stevens deserves a good chunk of the credit for what he was able to do defensively, primarily against Murray. Darius Garland also spent a significant amount of time defending Young throughout the night.

That’s where the Cavs earned this victory.

Speaking of the backcourt

There was a lot of talk this offseason about which team – Atlanta or Cleveland – made the better trade for an All-Star guard. The Hawks acquired Murray from San Antonio early in the summer, while the Cavs traded for Mitchell in September. Both teams paid a high price for what they viewed as missing pieces that could take the respective teams to the next level.

On Monday night, the Cavs have to feel pretty great about their trade compared to Atlanta’s.

Mitchell finished the game with a game-high 29 points on 11-of-22 shooting, nine assists, four rebounds and three steals. He continues to be every bit of a superstar when the Cavaliers need him to be, even if that wasn’t totally needed on Monday night.

What is looking up for the Cavs is that Mitchell and Garland appear to be figuring out how to play together. It was always something that was going to take a bit of time. This partnership was never going to be figured out overnight, but the likely outcome was always that it would get worked out.
It’s starting to look like what the Cavs envisioned it would.

Garland had 26 points on a super-efficient 9-of-14 shooting against Atlanta. Like Mitchell, he also had nine assists, however he had eight of Cleveland’s 19 turnovers. That number is far too high. Garland entered the night averaging 3.6 turnovers per night – ninth-most in the NBA – and is at an even four per contest after Monday’s win.

Four turnovers per game would slot Garland with the second-most on a nightly basis in the NBA, behind only Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid (4.4).
But other than that current issue, it’s hard to be unhappy with anything the Cavs’ backcourt is doing right now.

Here they are now

Monday night was a rematch of the Eastern Conference Play-In Tournament. The Hawks beat the Cavaliers in Cleveland back in April that earned them a playoff spot and a trip to Miami. That come-from-behind win by the Hawks started the summer for Cleveland and may have helped to put the franchise to where it is right now.

The Hawks were dismissed quickly by a Miami team that very nearly made the NBA Finals, but now both teams look differently than they did back then. Atlanta added Murray while the Cavs added Mitchell. Each a major piece that changes the trajectory of their franchise. Those moves, and that play-in game, will always make this era of basketball for the Cavs intertwined with that of the Hawks.

In thinking about it, if the Cavs beat the Hawks on that April evening at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the team advances to the playoffs and has to send its first-round pick to the Indiana Pacers to complete the trade for Caris LeVert. Instead, the Cavs were able to select Ochai Agbaji at No. 14 overall before he was eventually part of the package for Mitchell.

Would the Mitchell trade have happened with something else instead of Agbaji? It’s possible and maybe even likely, but it’s not something that will ever be known for sure.

But in beating Cleveland in the play-in, Atlanta at the very least helped to create a team that now is potentially better than it in the long term, and one that definitely was better on Monday night.