BY JULIA SWAIN
Despite multiple injuries and a lot of defensive miscues, the Cleveland Cavaliers managed to win 107-101 Monday night against the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the Orlando Magic. Entering the game, the Cavaliers were on a three game losing streak and were 3-7 in their last ten games. Head Coach JB Bickerstaff shared his thoughts prior to the game on the tightness that the Cavaliers are playing with right now.
“It [the tightness that the Cavaliers are playing with] was a lot, I’ll say that, and you could feel that they wanted it so bad,” Bickerstaff said. “You know, and we had a really good conversation yesterday, about the release of that feeling when you get down 15 and there’s really like, you know, nothing to lose, so to speak, right. And then that’s when our guys seem to find a way to play with that, you know, that freedom and that energy that they had been playing with so much before.”
In the first quarter, the Cavaliers dropped a lot of that tension and led by as much as twenty before dropping that lead significantly going into the second quarter. This was due largely in part to the injury suffered by one of the Cavaliers key players Evan Mobley, who exited the game with a sprained ankle midway through the second quarter. Despite this, the Cavaliers were able to pull out the win, securing their first winning season since the 2017-2018 season, and the first without Lebron James on the roster since 1997-1998.
“I think it’s, it’s a beautiful thing that we have 42 wins,” said Kevin Love, Cavaliers center on how important this win is. “Um, obviously our goal is to have, you know, much more than that. We felt like we could have, you know, but, a winning season and I’m happy for JB. I’m happy for the organization. These guys fighting hard for that.”
Following half time, the Cavaliers struggled immensely, specifically in the interior as they were unable to maintain a presence down in the paint without Mobley. Overall, the Cavaliers gave up 62 points in the paint compared to just 40 of their own points scored. Now with Mobley potentially out long-term, the Cavaliers will be forced to play with more emphasis on the small-ball.
“I’m confident with any lineup we put out there,” said Darius Garland, Cavaliers shooting guard, on the possibility of having to play smaller. “All of my guys are always ready to play. And they know what’s the importance of the next seven games coming up. So I don’t have any problem with any lineup that’s out there. I know everyone is gonna play hard, be ready to play and be their best version of themselves. So I’m confident with all our guys.”
Although the Cavaliers struggled in the third quarter, big plays by somewhat unknown players Lamar Stevens and Dylan Windler helped the Cavaliers gain back control in the fourth quarter. Dylan Windler specifically had nine rebounds in just sixteen minutes, giving the Cavaliers an important boost in that fourth quarter. Windler, according to Bickerstaff, is a player who “does a great job of flying around, coming up with those defensive rebounds, he cuts, well, he moves without the ball” and does a lot of things on the court that “won’t end up on the stat sheet”. This type of play earned him the Cavaliers Junkyard Dog Chain, which is given to the player with the most hustle after every Cavaliers win.
While the Cavaliers have not yet clinched a playoff spot, and in fact find themselves in danger of having to fight for a spot in the play-in tournament, last night’s win is a big first step in gaining their first playoff spot since 2017-2018, and becoming the first non-Lebron team to make the playoffs since 1997-1998. This is a Cavaliers team that has a lot of injuries (five players are on the injury report as of today, with two out for the season), but as the playoffs near, the Cavaliers will attempt to push through these injuries to make a deep playoff run.
Kevin Love had 19 points in 32 minutes off the bench, adding seven rebounds and three assists to his stat line. Bickerstaff had this to say on Kevin Love’s big shots:
“It’s an emotional boost for our guys,” Bickerstaff said. “You can see the way our guys feel about Kevin, uh, and how much they support him and how much they just wanna see him be successful. Going all the way back to the beginning of the year, they understood the sacrifice he made by moving to the bench and accepting that role to help the team. Uh, so they couldn’t be happier for him, uh, when he gets it rolling. And then, you know, the crowd gets behind him, uh, give us any bigger boost.”
Darius Garland proved time after time over the course of this game why he is such an important factor to the Cavaliers success. With 25 points and 12 assists, Garland put on a show in Cleveland, specifically with clutch play late in the fourth quarter to put the Cavaliers up for good.
“I mean, Darius as a closer, and he has the ability to make all the shots, whether it’s at the mid-range, the floaters, uh, you know, off the bounds catching shoots, and you look at teams that win and most of these games come down to the fourth quarter,” said Bickerstaff on Darius’ play. “They have a closer, uh, and Darius is at that level and it’s an elite level.”
Although Isaac Okoro only had 11 points and five rebounds, his four steals were impactful in the win. Bickerstaff had this to say on the type of player that Okoro is:
“That’s Isaac,” Bickerstaff said. “Again, he’s a guy who, you know, it [his statline] isn’t sexy all the time and people don’t want to talk about it. Um, but you don’t win games in this league without guys like Isaac, you know, guys that are willing to do things that most people aren’t willing to do, um, without, you know, leading acknowledgment or the rewards, you know, or the publicity, but he knows that’s how he helps us.”