The Cleveland Cavaliers’ season ends in a first round playoff loss, falling 4-1 to the New York Knicks. It wasn’t a bad season overall, but it’s quite the bitter taste to leave in the mouth. Going out like this is not a good look. No one on the Cavaliers played particularly well this game or really for the series, and the Knicks exposed some real weaknesses that need to be addressed next season.
Board Man Gets Paid
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The one thing that immediately jumps out is the ridiculous rebound advantage the Knicks had all series. It’s something the Cavaliers knew was coming, and should’ve prepared for. The Knicks are good at it, but there’s being good at it and the total domination that occurred in Game Five and the series at large. New York ended up with 75 offensive rebounds and 227 total, compared to the Cavaliers 46 offensive and 186 total. The sheer numbers are troubling, and it seemed like it was only getting worse as the series went on, with Games Four and Five being the biggest differences.
Jarrett Allen especially struggled. He went from double digit boards in the first two games to less than five in the final three. Mobley did better, but still couldn’t hold a candle to the magnificent performance of Mitchell Robinson, who averaged nearly six offensive rebounds per game. Robinson wasn’t the only Knick to show out on the boards either. Josh Hart ended up with 12 offensive boards as a 6’5” guard and Isaiah Hartenstein also had double digits.
What’s another way to visualize the rebound difference?
Cleveland was actually the more efficient team, shooting a better percentage from three, from the line and in field goals in general. For a team to lose 4-1 and play better efficiently is pretty surprising. Then again, the Knicks took 27 more field goals across the series and 34 more free throws. That shows a massive difference in inside presence in favor of the Knicks. Initially, the front court with Mobley and Allen was supposed to be a strength for the Cavaliers. The Knicks, however, made it a weakness. That’s a major reason they bombed out in this fashion.
Pump it Up
Mobley is noticeably lean, and really needs to bulk up heading into his third season. Giannis Antetokounmpo is visual proof that someone can go from stick to Superman, and Mobley needs to get on that program ASAP. The solution for Allen is a little more nebulous. He could stand to get stronger, sure, but he’s not skinny like Mobley.
In general, Allen had a really poor series scoring just 9.4 points per game in addition to just 7.4 rebounds. That’s not enough from someone making 20 million a year who’s supposed to be a key player on the team. The hustle, the will to fight, and get physical just didn’t seem to be there for Allen. Moreover, Allen reluctantly admitted the pressure got to him. Let’s hope that acknowledging it is the first step to fixing it.
Mary Altaffer/Associated Press
The rebounding was not the only issue for the Cavaliers. Even though they did technically shoot better, the offense was not good. As a matter of fact, they had the second lowest offensive rating of the playoffs. The Knicks got physical with the Cavs and they folded under the pressure. Even though the Knicks weren’t a good defensive team in the regular season, ranking 19th in defense rating, yet they were able to hold the Cavs down.
That can be attributed to a couple things. The offensive game plan was not very developed. Cleveland often defaulted to a simple pick and roll or isolations by Garland and Mitchell. That meant both needed to have great games to have any chance of winning. That’s a bit too much to count on in a seven game series.
The roster construction also came to bite them, which was somewhat expected. The lack of three-point shooting constricted spacing, making it hard to operate in the paint which is where Mitchell, Mobley and Allen like to score. It also made defense harder. Isaac Okoro is the only person that could attempt to limit Jalen Brunson one-versus-one, but if he starts then there are three non-shooters in the lineup. Moving Caris LeVert up the rotation then helps the shooting and spacing, but then kills the bench production, as LeVert is the only reliable scorer on the unit. No one else on the bench looked up for it, and it’s clear that letting Kevin Love go was a mistake as Dean Wade was unable to fill that void.
The roster obviously needs a makeover, but again that’s no surprise. The Donovan Mitchell move was a late swing, and this roster was never really ready to compete for a title. The team is young, and haven’t had a full offseason to form around this new core. The need for shooters is obvious. Running it back with the same core isn’t the worst idea if they can add a little outside presence.
Improvement is never guaranteed but you’d think Mobley and Garland at least still have room for improvement. Now that they’ve been bloodied in the playoffs they have that experience as well. There are also more extreme moves.
Trading Allen is a popular outcry right now. On one hand it makes sense. The spacing issues will continue unless one of the two bigs can develop a shot, which is no easy feat. Mobley could also blossom into a star center without Allen to block him. At the same time, Mobley’s best defensive role might just be as a roaming help defender which Allen opens up.
In terms of limiting the Knicks, the Cavs did do a pretty good job, as the Knicks offensive rating was nothing to write home about either. Part of that was the insistence on helping early when Brunson inevitably got past his man (which contributed to the rebounding issues), but the defense was working overall. Still, it’s not hard to imagine the team being better if the 20 million spent on Allen was spent on 3-and-D wings.
Where Do We Go From Here?
This season was always a progress season for the Cavaliers. Sure, the way they went out was disappointing, but for a young team, playoff experience always helps. In the next few years, they’ll come with cap space and a core of young, hungry players.
Any little roster move might take them over the top now. That could be getting that extra little piece that unlocks the whole roster, a big trade, the development of existing players, or perhaps a new coach with a more sophisticated offense. The sky is still the limit for this team, but the clock does officially start now.
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