Dribbles: Cavs Get Bitter Taste of What Playoff Basketball is All About

CLEVELAND — Random dribbles from the Cavaliers’ 101-97 home loss to the Knicks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference playoffs on Saturday.Donovan Mitchell and Josh Hart battle for a loose ball

1. You can talk about the lack of experience. You can really talk about the lack of rebounding — or specifically, the Knicks’ 17 offensive boards and numerous second-chance. And you can talk about the near-misses, the turnovers … all of it.

2. And you would be right.

3. Welcome to the playoffs, Cavs’ young core.

4. Right now, a lot of people in Cavs Nation are heated. They are demanding answers. They don’t want to hear perspective and reason. But this sort of calls for that.

5. Evan Mobley, Isaac Okoro and Darius Garland are rookies when it comes to the playoffs. It showed, and right away. Frankly, it’s to be expected. It stinks, but that’s the way it often goes at this time of year.

6. You might be saying, “Yeah, but the Knicks aren’t that experienced in the playoffs, either.” Maybe not. But coach Tom Thibodeau is — and make no mistake, this game was Tom Thibodeau basketball through and through. Ugly, slow, physical, elbows, bumps and bruises.

7. Then there was Donovan Mitchell. This game resembled a 30-point blowout for a large portion of the second half. Yet the Cavs were right there — and even held a one-point lead with 2:00 minutes left. We all know why, and it was because of the star guard who has been in these situations. Most of the rest of the Cavs have not.

8. Anyway, yes, the Cavs were right there. And then, you guessed it, another offensive rebound for the Knicks, and at the most important part of the game.

9. This really was playoff basketball at its finest. The Cavs just learned that the hard way. But if you’ve followed the NBA for any amount of time, you already know this is so often how it goes. The younger, less experienced teams tend to struggle.

10. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff on the loss: “We play a ton of guys a ton of minutes who are learning what playoff basketball is about. We’ve talked about it. You have to experience it to understand it. This was a lesson. We experienced it and we’ve got to bounce back from it and correct the things we can correct.”

11. That about sums it up.

12. Mitchell’s brilliance resulted in 38 points and eight assists. He was, for the most part, a one-man wrecking crew. Historically, he has raised his game to another level in the playoffs. And I don’t know that I’ve seen him better in Cavs uniform, including the 71-pointer to kick off the year.

13. Garland finished with 17, but it was a very quiet 17. The Knicks blitzed him right away and he seemed rattled. In the end, Garland finished with five turnovers … and one measly assist. 

14. That’s not intended to rip the guy. He had his moments. It’s just to show that, yes, he’s a playoff rookie.

15. Mobley had eight points on 4-of-13 shooting. He missed some bunnies. The Knicks got physical and forced him from the basket the rest of the time. He did pull down 11 rebounds, but I’ll be honest, I only noticed about five of them.

16. In other words, there wasn’t a time when I thought, “That was a big rebound.” I thought that four or five times about the Knicks.

17. Numbers-wise, Jarrett Allen had a nice night with 14 points (6-of-8 shooting) and 14 boards. So Allen had 14 and Mobley had 11. What’s that tell you?

18. I’ll go ahead and answer — it tells you that the other guys need to box out and crash the glass. Mobley and Allen can’t be the only ones doing it. Despite the stats, they struggled with it a little bit, too.

19. Okoro, Caris LeVert and the rest of the bench offered basically nothing. That’s an issue. Only Cedi Osman showed any signs of life, trying to defend Knicks guard and Cavs killer Jalen Brunson at the end (to limited success), and staying active.

20. Brunson finished with 27 points, including 21 after halftime, seemingly thwarting every Cavs run. Julius Randle showed no ill effects from a sprained ankle and went for 19 points and 10 rebounds. Josh Hart was a major pain off the bench with 17 points, 10 rebounds and multiple clutch plays.

21. So, what do the Cavs need to do next game? Win. That’s it. By any means possible. Someone, anyone besides Mitchell has to step forward. Lose, and it’s series over. How’s that for playoff pressure for a young core?

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  1. I am not buying the “rookie” excuse for Garland and Mobley. Those two play in games last season were playoff games. They had a taste last season. We saw what D’Arron Fox did against GS last night. Add that to Garland being rated number 60 in clutch efficiency among NBA guards is very telling.
    Add to the fact we have two finesse bigs with no back-ups (Wade is basically a G-Leaguer), we have big holes that were exposed.
    This is still a winable series IF we win Tuesday and LeVert and Mobley play to their talents. Right now it looks like a tough climb.

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