Dribbles: Cavs Scrap, Fight, Swat, And Now, It’s One More Win To Round Two

CLEVELAND — Random dribbles from the Cavaliers’ thriller of a 104-103 win over the Orlando Magic in Game 5 of their first-round NBA playoff series.Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA

1. Max Strus compared this series to a football game — back and forth, get physical, slug it out, see who’s left standing at the end. And now, the Cavs have the ball at the 5-yard line and time is running out.

2. Just gotta punch it in.

3. It was hardly ever pretty. The Cavs were hardly ever at their best. They still need to clean up plenty. But here’s the bottom line — they lead the series, 3-2, and if they need a seventh game, it will be in Cleveland.

4. Now, something else to consider — the Cavs have yet to lose in this series at home.

5. Look, we all thought this would be easier. The Magic are incredibly young and have a roster with a bunch of guys who are tasting the playoffs for the first time. But give them credit, man. They are showing great determination and fire. And wow, are they ever talented.

6. With all that in mind, the Cavs just need to find a way to get out of this series. It’s the ol’ survive and advance. Again, we didn’t expect it to go this way — but here we are. It’s the first team to four wins and the Cavs have three of them.

7. This one wasn’t decided until Evan Mobley blocked a Franz Wagner layup attempt with 5 seconds to go. What a swat. The Cavs were leading just 102-100 at the time.

8. Mobley had a long night, considering Jarrett Allen was a late scratch with bruised ribs (more on that in a minute). So Mobley had to go against some of the tallest timber in the NBA, and basically, he had to do it all alone. At times, he struggled. Understandably so. But he made the play of the game, and not surprisingly, it came on defense.

9. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff on Mobley: “Defensively, he was huge. Great block. That’s what the game was gonna come down to. It was gonna come down to the trenches.”

10. More Bickerstaff: “We missed Jarrett a lot. We knew we would have to pick up the slack and that Evan would have to do the job tonight. Again, I thought he was phenomenal.”

11. Darius Garland had his best game of the series with 23 points. That included 17 in the first quarter. This after averaging just 12 points in the first four games.

12. Bickerstaff on Garland: “His way of leading us tonight was coming out extremely aggressive and confident, understanding how important this game was to us.” 

13. Bickerstaff is telling the truth. You could just see it in Garland’s eyes right away. He looked for his shot early and set a confident tone.

14. Donovan Mitchell struggled with his shot (9-of-23, 1-of-7 on 3-pointers) but still put up 28 points and sealed the deal with a pair of free throws after Mobley’s swat. ‘It’s a game of inches,” he said, sharing Strus’ football analogy.

15. And yes, Strus finally started to find the range, scoring 16 points and hitting a couple big threes late. It was nice to see the shots start dropping, given how he’s been playing his buns off in every other area. “You can just tell he loves NBA playoff basketball,” Garland said.

16. Mobley finished with 14 points and 13 big rebounds. Meanwhile, Marcus Morris took Georges Niang‘s spot in the rotation and t4ruly delivered — finishing with 12 points and just showing general toughness and savvy.

17. That was no surprise to Bickerstaff, an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets when Morris was a rookie there (2011-12) “He’s got big courage,” Bickerstaff said.

18. Isaac Okoro started in place of Allen and was tasked with defending Magic All-Star big man Paolo Banchero. It’s true Banchero finished with a game-high 39 points, but you could tell he was getting irritated during the minutes in which Okoro defended him. Banchero is 6-foot-10. Okoro is maybe 6-5.

19. As for Allen, word is that his injury is painful, but not that severe. The series doesn’t resume until Friday in Orlando, so the Cavs’ hope is he will be ready to go. Bickerstaff said if Allen had played, he would’ve worn protective padding. Anyway, the Cavs are really gonna need him, that’s for sure. Things have not gone well for them away from Cleveland in this series.

20. For the Cavs, it’d be nice to go to Orlando, play well enough, and put this thing to bed. Last thing they want is to face these Magic two more times. Nor do they want to be all beat up and worn out if they get to the second round.

21. But to win in Orlando, they’ll have to play their best game of the series and one of their best of the entire year. They’ve indicated they know that. Now let’s see what they do about it.

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