Game Night Observations: A bad loss, rotational questions, and maximizing Garland
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Danny Cunningham covers the Cleveland Cavaliers for 850 ESPN Cleveland and thelandondemand.comThe Cleveland Cavaliers had an opportunity to close out a five-game, 10-day road trip on a positive note with a win in Minnesota. With a 14-point lead midway through the third quarter, finishing the road trip 3-2 and returning Cleveland sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference.
Instead, the Cavs let go of the rope against a team that entered the night below .500, was on the second night of a back-to-back, and without two of its three best players. After leading Minnesota 69-55, the Cavs were outscored 55-33 the rest of the night.
Yes, there are plenty of legitimate reasons why this happened for the Cavs. Donovan Mitchell was under the weather after being listed as questionable with an illness, Darius Garland had an off night, Evan Mobley missed part of the game after banging knees with Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards, and the team was on its last day of a 10-day, five-city road trip that had them in three different time zones over the last four days.
All of those are legitimate reasons that things went sideways for the Cavs. But the biggest reason that they did may have been that the Wolves simply played harder than the Cavs.
The Wolves have been a team that, at times, this year has folded under pressure or when things become difficult. The Cavs had a front seat look at this earlier in the season when nearly coming back from a large deficit at home. With Minnesota having played on Friday night at home and trailing by 14, it wouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone at that point if things would have unraveled for the Wolves.
The Cavs being the team that things unraveled for certainly was a bit surprising. Maybe it’s just the team ready to get home after being on the road for nearly two weeks or maybe it’s something more. It’s not something that will be known immediately.
The only sure thing is that Saturday night in Minnesota was a bad loss.
Where was Okoro?
One of the few bright spots throughout the night on Saturday was Isaac Okoro. He created havoc defensively and performed well on the offensive end of the floor. It’s unlikely that he’s ever going to be regarded as a sniper from beyond the arc, but has been shooting much better as of late. On Saturday night he knocked down two of his three attempts from deep on his way to eight points.
Oddly enough, Okoro only played 15 minutes on the night, with none of them coming in the fourth quarter. He only played 5:51 in the second half.
Things are going to become a little tricky with the rotation now that point guard Ricky Rubio is going to have his minutes ramped up as he returns from the knee injury that cost him the first half of the season. There are now at least 10 guys that deserve regular playing time. When forward Dean Wade eventually returns from injury that will only increase that number. This means that head coach J.B. Bickerstaff is going to have difficult decisions to make in regards to playing time. One of those decisions could be having to choose between Okoro and Lamar Stevens.
As things look right now. Okoro would likely be the route the Cavs take, especially with his play as of late, but it’s interesting to note that Okoro didn’t play more on Saturday night.
One of the lineups that the Cavs did put on the floor for the first time on Saturday was Rubio, Mitchell, and Garland all together. How often that happens in games moving forward will be something to watch for.
Rubio’s calming presence on the offensive end of the floor can do more than just help to stabilize things when he’s out there. He may be the guy that really takes the Cavs offensively to the next level, and this lineup with Jarrett Allen and either Evan Mobley or Caris LeVert, could be an avenue as to how.
What Rubio has the ability to do is to help maximize others offensively, and this may be most seen in the play of Garland. Garland certainly is a true point guard in the sense that he makes others better. When Garland and Mitchell are on the floor together, Garland is able to help maximize what Mitchell can do at that end of the floor. The same thing isn’t necessarily true for getting the most out of Garland.
Rubio may be the one guy on the roster that can get the most out of Garland on the offensive end of the floor. Garland is a supremely talented shooter, and even better when he has the opportunity to serve in a catch-and-shoot role. That’s something that often isn’t afforded to him, as just 15.2% of his attempts this season have been catch-and-shoot 3-pointers according to NBA.com.
For Garland that amounts to roughly 2.5 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts per game. He’s currently making 47.2% of those shots. The way to increase the frequency that Garland has that opportunity is by putting him on the floor with Rubio. If Rubio, Garland, and Mitchell all share the floor together, that may be the way to maximize all of them.