Game Night Observations: Closing out strong, Allen's effort, and Rubio's impactful return
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Danny Cunningham covers the Cleveland Cavaliers for 850 ESPN Cleveland and thelandondemand.comThe Cleveland Cavaliers secured an important 119-113 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night on the road. Thursday’s game was one in which the Cavaliers certainly didn’t play their best, but they found a way to bounce back from a tough, emotional loss on Tuesday night in Utah.
The Cavaliers did not hold a lead during the first three quarters before Donovan Mitchell’s jumper with just under five minutes remaining game them a 105-104 lead. Up until that point, the Cavs would close Portland’s lead down before the Blazers would push it back out. Every time Cleveland looked to have an answer, the Blazers countered.
Once the Cavs took the lead, they were able to close out the game. That’s no small feat for a team that has struggled, at times, to close out games this season, especially when they’re on the road. During “clutch time,” which the NBA defines as a game that is within five points with under five minutes remaining, the Cavaliers outscored Portland 16-9 on the way to the win.
Part of the reason why the Cavs were so good down the stretch was Mitchell’s play, but he wasn’t alone. Darius Garland and Evan Mobley had fantastic fourth quarters as well.
After playing only 13 minutes before the fourth quarter due to foul trouble, Mobley had nine points on 2-of-2 from the floor (5-of-6 FTs), four rebounds, a steal and one emphatic block in the fourth quarter. Those are all the quantifiable things that he did. It’s difficult to put into numbers his impact defensively, but he was once again stellar on that end of the floor. It’s incredibly rare to have a young big man be as impactful as Mobley is on the defensive end and it's been on constant display lately by Mobley. Right now, there’s little question he belongs on one of the NBA’s All-Defense teams at the end of the season.
As for Mitchell, he struggled shooting the ball early on but found his rhythm in the second half. It still wasn’t a super-efficient night as a whole for him as he finished with 26 points on 23 shots. His night was a tale of two halves, though. His first half was rough, while the second half was exactly what to expect of a superstar of Mitchell’s caliber. He scored 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting after halftime, including 10 points in the fourth quarter.
Lastly, Garland was great down the stretch as well, scoring eight of his 20 points in the final quarter. He was aggressive in searching for his own shot as well as getting to the line six times. The Cavs are at their best when Garland is aggressive in the way that he was on Thursday night. Opposing teams having to worry about both he and Mitchell in the backcourt in fourth quarters is quite a challenge, and the more Garland forces that issue, the better the Cavs will be.
Man in the middle
Jarrett Allen wasn’t the biggest reason why the Cavaliers were able to close out the game against Portland, but he was a big reason why they were in the position to be able to do so. Allen finished with a season-high 24 points to go with 10 rebounds and a season-high six assists.
The Cavaliers found something early that worked against Portland, and Allen was the beneficiary of it. What was really impressive was the passing that he and Mobley have between each other. That pair combined for nine assists on the night, with four of them coming to each other. It’s rare to see two big men pass to each other with the skill and precision Allen and Mobley have.
In the first three quarters, when scoring wasn’t coming easy for anyone else on the Cavs, Allen helped to carry them on that end of the floor. Without his 22 points in that time frame, the Cavs aren’t in the position to close out the game the way that they did.
Ricky Rubio played his first NBA game in over a year on Thursday night in Portland. He last played on December 28, 2021 when he tore the ACL in his left knee during a Cavs game in New Orleans. He finished the night playing 10 minutes and scoring nine points.
Rubio’s return to the floor was another step in his recovery process. The player he was on Thursday night won’t be the player he is at the end of the season.
The 10 minutes that Rubio spent on the floor on Thursday did show enough to understand that he is going to make a big impact on the Cavaliers when he’s back to full strength and free of any minute restriction. In just the short time he was on the floor against Portland, Rubio provided a significant impact for the Cavs. As the time he spends on the floor expands, it stands to expect his impact to as well.
Despite not playing in the fourth quarter and only playing those 10 minutes, this is a game that the Cavaliers don’t win without Rubio playing in it.