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Danny Cunningham covers the Cleveland Cavaliers for 850 ESPN Cleveland and thelandondemand.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @RealDCunningham.
The Cleveland Cavaliers lost Game 1 of their first round series against the New York Knicks 101-97 on Saturday night. With Game 2 looming on Tuesday night at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, there are plenty of adjustments that the Cavs need to make in order to right themselves.
Here are three adjustments the Cavs can make heading into Game 2 against the Knicks.
1. Change up the wing rotation
It was surprising that Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff played nine guys in the first half on Saturday night in Game 1 against the Knicks. That changed in the second half when Ricky Rubio and Dean Wade both did not play. In Game 2 it would be some sort of surprise if Rubio did not play, but it wouldn’t be if Wade remained on the bench. Putting Lamar Stevens on the floor in his place makes sense.
In Game 1, Wade played a total of seven minutes and 21 seconds, all of which came in the first half. In that time the Cavs were outscored by New York by 14 points and Wade never once got off the bench again.
That bad stretch of basketball obviously isn’t all because of poor play by Wade. It coincided with the only part of the game Donovan Mitchell took a rest and the Cavs offense collapsed. Over that stretch the Cavs went just 2 of 11 from the floor while the Knicks were 7 for 14. Again, not all Wade’s fault. He might not be the solution, either.
While the Cavs need offense when Mitchell isn’t on the floor, that’s not something Wade has been able to provide very much of throughout this season. In theory, Wade is a better shooter and offensive player than Stevens but the reality doesn’t reflect that. Wade finished the year as a 35 percent shooter from 3-point range, compared to 31.6 for Stevens. That margin is obviously significant, but since Wade returned from his shoulder and ankle injuries in late January he’s made just 31 percent of his 3-pointers.
Pairing that with the fact that Stevens does more things offensively inside the arc than Wade does, including creating second chance opportunities, with the fact Stevens is a superior and more versatile defender gives more than enough reason to have Stevens on the floor in that role.
Stevens isn’t someone that is as effective when playing longer minutes, but for 10 minutes on Tuesday night he could be exactly what the Cavs need in that role.
2. Finding more shooting
Sometimes it’s as simple as making more shots offensively. It sounds silly, but if the Cavs played average offensively in Game 1 against the Knicks it’s a game they probably win comfortably. That’s both a good and a bad thing for the Cavs.
Guys not named Donovan Mitchell made just four of the 15 3-pointers they attempted. That needs to be better in Game 2 for the Cavs to operate at a respectable level offensively. Darius Garland made two shots from deep, as did Cedi Osman. The other members of the team missed all eight attempts.
The Cavs need something from Caris LeVert or Isaac Okoro offensively. Most of the time they’re going to be given plenty of space to shoot, often times having the ball funneled to them by New York’s defense. Okoro making wide open 3-pointers is a necessity for the Cavs winning this series. Maybe Game 2 is kinder to him than Game 1 was.
The option that most fans will continue to clamor for is Danny Green. Green hasn’t played many meaningful minutes for the Cavs since being signed in February after securing a buyout from Houston. Inserting him suddenly into the rotation with a group of guys he doesn’t have a ton of time alongside is a risk, especially when you consider how he looks moving laterally on defense.
The upside to that is Green is by far the best catch-and-shoot option the Cavs have. Green is also by far the most experienced on the team. There’s not a moment that’s going to be too big for him, especially in the first round of the playoffs. Defensively, the Cavs would have to figure something out, but offensively he could alleviate some significant issues.
3. Gang rebounding
The biggest thing that will haunt the Cavs when looking back on Game 1 is that they allowed 17 offensive rebounds that led to New York scoring 23 second chance points. The Knicks scoring nearly a quarter of their points off of their own misses is extreme.
It’s easy to say that Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen need to be better at grabbing rebounds, even as they combined for 25 of Cleveland’s 38 rebounds on Tuesday night. They do.
Some of the offensive rebounds New York grabbed on Saturday night can be directly blamed on those two. The bigs for the Knicks – Mitchell Robinson, Isaiah Hartenstein, and Julius Randle – combined for nine offensive rebounds. It’s not fair to expect that number to be zero, but it does need to be lower.
That trio combining for nine offensive boards means that eight of New York’s offensive rebounds came from smaller players. That’s a problem for Cleveland’s wings. Knicks guard Josh Hart had just as many offensive rebounds (five) as Okoro, Osman, and LeVert had total rebounds on Saturday night. That cannot happen again.
Rebounding is obviously the area that needs to be improved upon the most for the Cavs, and having the wings chip in much more in that area is paramount to making it happen.