Dribbles: Cavs Shut Down Magic As Experience Prevails Yet Again

Randon dribbles following the Cavaliers’ 96-86 home win over the Orlando Magic in their first-round NBA playoff series on Monday. …

Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA
(Ron Schwane/Ap Photo)

1. You know the Cavs have been dominant when Orlando needs a 12-0 run just to cut the deficit to nine. Then Donovan Mitchell banked in two runners and that was that.

2. That happened in the fourth quarter, as Mitchell made certain the Cavs never got too complacent. It’s working, because they have yet to trail — in the entire series. They now lead two games to zilch, with Game 3 set for Thursday in Orlando.

3. For the second straight game, the Cavs also kept the Magic from reaching 90 points. You do that in today’s NBA and you’re gonna win, like, every time.

4. Let there be no debate, Cleveland’s defense was never this good during the regular season. And it was pretty good then. It’s unrelenting now and you’d be hard-pressed to even find a weak link. Orlando is totally befuddled and frustrated.

5. Offensively, the Cavs weren’t remarkable, but they were balanced. Mitchell scored 23, Evan Mobley had 17, Jarrett Allen had 16 and Darius Garland 15, with Isaac Okoro compiling 10 points off the bench.

6. So, nothing eye-popping there. Yet the Cavs once led by 22 points, anyway. They’ve been doing it via pure grit and making sure they tackle all the so-called little things.

7. For instance, Allen pulled down a whopping 20 rebounds. This after collecting 18 in Game 1. The official stats aren’t in, but I’m guessing an average of 19.0 rebounds leads the entire NBA playoffs.

8. Max Strus has been struggling to score (seven points, 2-of-7 shooting), but added tons of hustle and nine boards. Mitchell had eight rebounds and Mobley grabbed seven. Or how about Okoro, who finished with a game-high four steals?

9. In short, the Cavs are just doing whatever needs to be done to keep the young Magic feeling overwhelmed.

10. Mitchell to NBA TV: “We got some things to clean up, but it’s good to go up 2-0.”

11. He added that he’s been entirely impressed with the play of Allen and Mobley, as Orlando was considered the bigger team entering the series. But the Cavs have outrebounded the Magic in both games and overall have just controlled the paint.

12. That said, Mitchell also challenged Allen and Mobley not to be satisfied — and to take their determined play on the road. He’s right when he indicated the Cavs will need it more than ever in Orlando.

13. Allen to Bally Sports on the win: “As long as we play like this, I feel like we can take anybody on. The real series starts now.”

14. He’s correct. They always say a series doesn’t start until both teams have played a home game.

15. Meanwhile, Georges Niang told Bally Sports’ John Michael that the Cavs “have a plan in place to make (the Magic) have to take and make difficult shots, and I think we did a good job of that.” 

16. Niang went scoreless on 0-of-4 shooting. Caris LeVert had eight points on 3-of-7 from the field. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff opted to use just three off the bench (Okoro, Niang, LeVert) — and if you really want to nitpick, you can say that one of those three will have to get hot here soon. But each has been doing the job defensively.

17. Paolo Banchero scored 21 to lead the Magic and Franz Wagner added 18. Still, neither looked as formidable as they did during the regular season. Chalk that up to perhaps some newness in the playoffs and the Cavs’ defense down low.

18. Bottom line: It’s been a case of so far, so good for the Cavs, who look like a very professional outfit in the 2024 NBA Playoffs. Or actually, so far, very good. Through two games, they have done exactly what they believed they could do.

19. Final word from Bickerstaff: “For us, it just starts with our defense and that’s what is always going to give us a chance.”

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