Cavs’ basketball is at its best when the team selflessly finds the best shot, and last night’s 20 point victory in Utah portrayed just that.
The Cavs’ brand of basketball differs from many teams playing today. Although every team in the NBA strives to play selflessly, several teams can survive through one or two players’ performances. For example, the Lakers can still win games when LeBron does Lebron-like things and the team struggles. However, the Cavaliers do not have an individual of this caliber nor individual significance. Instead, Cleveland relies upon several players to fulfill their own unique roles.
Jarrett Allen needs to rim protect and clean up the glass. Evan Mobley needs to be active and aggressive on both ends of the court. Darius Garland needs to effectively evaluate what the defense is giving him and make the smartest decision with the ball. While Lauri Markkanen, Kevin Love, and Cedi Osman need to stretch the floor to stop defenses from loading up the paint. However, above all else, each and every man must handle their own defensively.
All of these things and more came true on Tuesday night’s game against Utah. Granted, the cards were stacked against the Jazz from the start. As one of the last team’s affected by covid-19 protocols, the Jazz missed several players. Specifically, the most significant absence was not having a single center available. Due to the health and safety protocols, Rudy Gobert, Hassan Whiteside, Udoka Azubuike, Rudy Gay, and more could not participate.
To make matters worse, Joe Ingles received two early technicals, resulting in a second-quarter ejection. Therefore, without any post players to combat the Cavs’ three-headed dragon of bigs, the Jazz were destined for failure. However, Cleveland could not pull away until the second half due to poor shot selection and defense.
Closing Time for the Cavs
Cleveland dominated most of the night but struggled to end quarters on a strong note. At the beginning of almost every quarter, the Cavaliers punched Utah in the face with quick scoring. With just over three minutes left in the first, they led 22-11. Subsequently, the Jazz went on an 11-0 run to tie things up. Ironically enough, the Jazz, a team consumed by shooting threes and without any big men whatsoever, made just two threes and actually outscored Cleveland’s supersized team in the paint (16-14).
Like the first, the Cavaliers began strong but faded in the end. At one point, they led by 14 points thanks to another 9-2 run. However, Utah turned the tables on Cleveland again with a 13-4 run that cut the lead to just four. Nonetheless, the Cavs entered halftime up by six points, three of which came via three technical fouls by Utah.
At this point, the game could have gone either way, but for those watching last night, a separating-scoring spree was inevitable for the Cavs. That said, nobody anticipated just how significant that next run would be. Over five minutes or so, Cleveland scored a whopping 21 consecutive points without any rebuttal from Utah. As a result, Cleveland went into the fourth up by 20 points, a significant deficit that even a healthy Jazz team would struggle to overcome.
Career Nights for a Couple of Cavs
In the final period, the only thing at stake was personal performances. Although several players deserve appreciation for their night, two stand out as career milestones. First and foremost, Lamar Stevens‘s third-quarter accounted for most of the team’s run. In that quarter alone, Stevens produced 15 points on 6/8 shooting from the field (1/1 from deep), as well as five rebounds and a steal. That stretch boosted Stevens into setting a new career-high, which is the second time he’s done that in the last three games, of 23 points.
“I got lost in the moment,” Stevens said. “I was able to pick and choose my spots and just felt really confident.”
On the subject of confidence, Darius Garland fears no shot and is willing to take advantage of any separation the defense gives him. However, Garland has battled some shooting struggles over the last three games, with him only making 4 of his previous 21 attempts from deep. Nevertheless, Garland refused to let that affect his ability to help his team.
“We expected them to come out and shoot a bunch of threes,” Head Coach JB Bickerstaff said. “We needed one or multiple of our perimeter guys to come up big on the defensive glass.”
As a result, both starting guards racked up the rebounds, with Stevens grabbing 7 and Garland securing 10 of them. Furthermore, Coach Bickerstaff mentioned how confident he is in Garland to make the right decision, whether with shooting or distributing. And with his shooting off, Garland focused on finding his teammates for open looks. Therefore, Garland recorded 15 assists on the night.
Lastly, and least expectedly, Garland finally reached double-digit scoring thanks to more selfless play from the Cavs.
“I mean, it’s just another milestone,” Garland humbly said. “But I get praise from my teammates. They helped me throughout the whole thing, really. They were making shots, and K Love boxed out other people for me to get rebounds.”
Cavaliers Schedule Ahead
The Cavs recorded their third win of this road trip with the win. Furthermore, only two more games remain before the end of this trying road trip. Their next game on Thursday takes them to San Antonio, a city notorious for their home-court advantage. Following such a well-played game on both ends of the floor, Cleveland hopes to ride that momentum to earn yet another road victory.
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