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The Cavs Last Practice Before Playoffs

Cavaliers Donovan Mitchell Vs Knicks Jalen Brunson

In the final practice before their opening playoff game against the New York Knicks, the Cavaliers mostly spoke in coach speak and buzzwords. That can be a good thing. It means they are focused on the playoffs, and the media isn’t a distraction. It’s business as normal, which is something that they emphasized time and time again. Speaking to Donovan Mitchell, Ricky Rubio and Cedi Osman, the message was clear. Do what we do and keep the emotions in check.

Cleveland Cavaliers Practice

Taken by Patrick Yen BackSportsPage

Playoff Experience

Whether it was on purpose or not, the three players that spoke in this last practice happen to have postseason experience, which is not all that common on this Cavaliers team. Mitchell has never missed it in his NBA career, Rubio made it twice with Utah in 2018 and 2019, and Osman is the last vestige of the 2017 Finals squad.

They all had the same general message, which was “keep calm.” The playoffs can be chaotic and have extreme ups and downs. Rubio said of his first playoff experience, “When we lost game one it felt like the world was ending. When we won game two it felt like we were champions.” Mitchell said to not let the outside stuff get to you. They all said over and over that the key to success was to keep doing what they’ve been doing this season, but just get sharper and better at it. Do what got you there, essentially. The key to getting to the next level is to pay extra attention to the details and the little things. Mitchell said everyone needs to be as perfect as they can in their role.

The other key that Rubio and Mitchell harped on, two of the most experienced in the playoffs, was to stay in the moment. Don’t look ahead, and also don’t let past plays dwell on too long either. Mitchell said the one thing he’s telling the guys is to have fun and not have any regrets that they’ll look back on. That’s something he learned intimately last year, sitting at home far earlier than he wanted to after being upset in the playoffs.


The New York Knicks Matchup

Cavaliers Donovan Mitchell Vs Knicks Jalen Brunson

To quote Rubio, the matchup between the Knicks and Cavs will be a “dogfight.” The Knicks took the last three of the four regular season games, with the recent one without their star in Julius Randle. Randle doesn’t look likely to play in the first game at least, but the Knicks already proved they can keep up without him. A Tom Thibodeau coached team consists of physicality and unrelenting battles for every ball. 

That’s something Rubio knows well, having played for Thibs before. Mitchell also has a personal relationship with the Knicks, calling it a “full circle moment. Initially, he thought he would be playing for his hometown team in the Knicks this year, Mitchell also credits Knicks associate head coach Johnnie Bryant with shaping him to be the player he is from their time together on the Utah Jazz. While that might give the Knicks some advantage, Mitchell isn’t too concerned about it, and he isn’t overthinking things which is something that can easily happen this time of year. 

That’s especially true with the extra week of practice that the play-in tournament added, which Rubio called akin to training camp. Mitchell will still take whatever is given to him, and doesn’t want to overplay or go into any game trying to force anything. 

The Knicks will be a force offensively, which is different from the classic Thibs’ teams. Guard Jalen Brunson is the key to their offense, especially with Randle out. Not to mention he was unconscious in their last meeting. It’s not just him though, as Mitchell made sure to point out. If Randle does come back, he’s a massive threat. Other factors in R.J. Barrett, Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes also can all fill it up in a hurry when they are on. 

Another key the Knicks rely on is their offensive rebounding, where they rank third in the NBA. Mitchell said they have to limit second chance points, because playing 35 second defensive possessions over and over will not work in the playoffs. Rubio echoed that sentiment, and also added that he thinks that cutting down the amount of fastbreaks the Knicks get will be important, as he believes the Cavs are a better match in the five-on-five. 

Bench Importance

Rubio, Osman, and Caris LeVert are likely to be three of the top minute getters off the bench for the Cavs. They know their role is important.  Rubio also reminded everyone that in the playoffs, it’s not a binary starters vs. starters and bench vs. bench. Both Osman and Rubio know they have to play their role to the utmost to help the starters out.

Rubio said his most important job is to control tempo, whether that’s speeding up when they sense vulnerability or calming things down when they get too chaotic. Osman said the bench needs to be ready whenever their number is called whoever it may be as these playoff games, even when playing time will be highly varied. 

The Cavs bench has been a weakness for them, but Rubio pointed out they have been better since the All-Star break. It’s hard to gauge the validity of that, but LeVert especially has been playing his best basketball post all-star break. According to Mitchell, LeVert has been one of the most impressive players in this week of practice, and keeping those minutes when Mitchell or Garland are on the bench afloat will be massive. 



Of all the Eastern Conference Round 1 series, this is the only one that projects to be close. The top three in the East have been far and above better than the rest of the pack, but the Knicks and Cavs appear to be evenly matched as it gets. The smallest things will make all the difference.

Both teams are young and without a ton of playoff experience, and considering that the victor here might have a head start in becoming the next true contender. That’s not to make light of their respective championship aspirations. Both of these teams also aren’t in a rush, as their championship windows are wide open. Also, many of both teams’ best players are locked down for at least a few years. Getting a playoff win under their belt right now though will be invaluable experience and confidence.

The Cleveland Cavaliers looked poised and locked in ahead of their first game today at 6pm ET.


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