Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ 128-120 road loss to the Thunder on Wednesday.
1. For two quarters, the Cavs looked bad. Turnovers. Missed free throws. Shoddy defense. Those just happened to be the first two quarters and it cost them the game.
2. The rest of the night, or after halftime, the Cavs looked like the team they say they are. They became aggressive, they got physical, they made more of the right plays and took better care of the ball.
3. But every single time they got close … Oklahoma City did something to break their spirit. Namely, score. Oftentimes, it was a 3-pointer. At least, it sure felt that way.
4. And that is what happens when you are trying to play catchup on the road. One little mistake is magnified.
5. Caris LeVert was brilliant, scoring 29 points, grabbing five rebounds and passing for five assists. He went 7-of-14 shooting and was 13-of-16 from the line. Those 13 free throws made are a career-high. So kudos to LeVert for keeping the Cavs in it.
6. Evan Mobley was pretty good too, finishing with 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting. But everyone else? Meh.
7. Donovan Mitchell scored 20, but this was clearly his worst night of the season. He just didn’t have it. Mitchell went 8-of-23 shooting, including a miserable 1-of-9 on 3-pointers.
8. But that’s OK. Mitchell should be allowed to have an off night. There are 82 games. No one is Superman every time. That’s not what haunted the Cavs. Surrendering 128 points is a much bigger deal.
9. On one hand, the Thunder do this to everyone. They entered the night averaging 117 a game. But the Cavs didn’t play like themselves defensively in the first half in giving up 70 points. That’s not “Cavaliers Basketball,” as coach J.B. Bickerstaff likes to call it.
10. I think the Cavs miss Isaac Okoro. I’m guessing I wouldn’t have written that before this season. But he’s very clearly their best perimeter defender. They needed him on this night, as fantastic Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 43. Amazingly, he took just two threes along the way, making a near-backbreaker with about 4 minutes to go.
11. Darius Garland finished with a solid line of 15 points and nine assists — but also committed a whopping eight turnovers. That included FIVE in the first quarter.
12. As I wrote at halftime, Garland is a terrific player. The Cavs are lucky to have him. But you have to be able to trust your point guard to take care of the ball.
13. You don’t have to manufacture a House of Highlights pass every time. Make the simple play, get your team into the offense, value possessions. At what point do the Cavs have a heart-to-heart with Garland about this? It has to end. He said at training camp he knows that. So stop doing it.
14. This isn’t meant to pick on Garland. Overall, the Cavs committed 18 turnovers. Plenty were guilty. But five from your star point guard … in one quarter … on the road. Yeah, it’s basically game over.
15. The Cavs (3-5) were coming off their best six quarters of the season — the second half at the Pacers, followed by the entire game vs. the Warriors. They had some momentum coming into this four-game trip. And then, poof. It vanished early in the first quarter.
16. Bickerstaff to reporters in OKC on that very topic: “Our approach to start the game wasn’t good enough. Where we were mentally and where our focus was, wasn’t good enough. Coming out and not executing the game plan was disappointing.”
17. Bickerstaff didn’t really specify what the game plan was, but I’m guessing it didn’t include committing nine turnovers in the first quarter.
18. Oh, then there was that first-half defense — or lack thereof. “In the first half, they had 40 points in the paint,” Bickerstaff said. “You can’t survive allowing teams to dominate the painted area that way.”
19. No, you most certainly cannot.
21. Now, the Cavs get to pay a visit to the Warriors, on Saturday night. You remember them? The really good team the Cavs just beat in Cleveland?
22. Translation: The Cavs had better not have another quarter or two like they had vs. the Thunder (5-3). Golden State will already be plenty motivated.
23. At any rate, I don’t think this is a major deal, losing to a quickly rising team on the road. The goal is always to play your best basketball when it means the most. No one goes 82-0. And last year, the Heat reached the Finals as a play-in team. I know I keep repeating that, but the point is, you’re not going to be perfect — and you don’t have to be in November.
24. So yes, I still think the Cavs can be an East contender. And they know what they have to work on, and that’s taking care of the ball and playing the type of defense they’re capable of for longer stretches. I predict they’ll get there eventually.
Cavs halftime dribbles …
1. Take care of the basketball and make your free throws. That’s a good start to winning on the road. The Cavs haven’t done either nearly enough.
2. Then again, the problem isn’t entirely offense. The Cavs are shooting around 50%. But when you give up…
— Sam Amico (@AmicoHoops) November 9, 2023