For the first time in several games, the difference between a win and loss for the Cleveland Cavaliers did not come down to one spectacular play. On Friday, it was a game-winning three from Isaac Okoro. Earlier in the week, it was a game-tilting dunk from Donovan Mitchell.
No, on Sunday night, the Cavaliers simply handled business against the Houston Rockets, winning 108-91.
It’s a good thing the game didn’t come down to the wire: the Cavaliers are one of the league’s weaker teams in the clutch. But lately, Cleveland’s late-game execution has improved, leading one reporter to ask Mitchell where the difference has come from after defeating the Rockets.
“I think it’s just a mindset,” Mitchell told reporters, per the Cleveland Cavaliers YouTube channel. “Obviously, our defense is the key of it. We’re finding different things offensively. Different guys contributing, I think Evan (Mobley) and Caris LeVert, I think those two guys, in particular, have taken a huge step in their own right and their own way. I think Caris is finding himself. This is the Caris LeVert that we all know. I think during the year he’s trying to figure things out and where he fits in and whatnot.”
“You look at Evan Mobley and he’s phenomenal. And then on top of that, you have Jarrett Allen getting 24 and 14 you know like it’s hard, it’s hard to compete with that. And the nights where Darius (Garland) and I, we played solid, you know what I mean?”
Mitchell knows the attention might get drawn to him and Garland, given their status as the team’s lead guards. But the All-Star knows the Cavaliers are loaded with talent elsewhere.
“There’s a lot of talent on this team outside of myself and Darius and you’re seeing it in the fourth quarter. It’s not just me, it’s Ev, it’s JA, it’s Cedi (Osman), it’s Caris,” Mitchell said.
Cavaliers’ JB Bickerstaff & Caris LeVert Discussion Revealed
As Mitchell noted, LeVert’s place in the lineup wasn’t always this solid.
For instance, the former Brooklyn Nets guard was benched in favor of Isaac Okoro in November. According to Chris Fedor of cleveland.com, LeVert’s demotion was the result of a “heart-to-heart” with coach JB Bickerstaff.
“In mid-November, following a loss in Milwaukee that led to a lengthy heart-to-heart in the visitor’s locker room, LeVert and Bickerstaff mutually agreed a move to the bench was best,” Fedor wrote. “It would give him more freedom. It would keep him from hijacking offensive possessions designed for Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley or Jarrett Allen — the four mainstays in the starting lineup. It would provide a little more roster balance and second-unit stability. That was the thinking anyway.”
But LeVert has been given more time late in the fourth quarter, which Mitchell touched on.
Cavaliers’ Clutch Struggles Revealed
LeVert’s inclusion late has been part of Bickerstaff’s attempt to cure the Cavs’ end-of-game execution woes.
Heading into the Rockets game, the Cavs were one of the NBA’s worst teams in the clutch, sitting at 18th in clutch field goal percentage, 14th in three-point percentage, and 23rd in points scored. Some of those woes boil down to a lack of experience playing together.
“Obviously, it’s no secret that we lack the experience,” Mitchell said, per Chris Fedor of cleveland.com. “When people talk, we’re not in their top 3 or whatever it is, and that’s fine, but the biggest thing for us is we believe we can not just make the playoffs but make a deep run. It’s all a learning experience and about continuing to get better, so, when we get to the playoffs, whatever seed we are, we’re ready.”