Dribbles: Cavs’ Lack of Playoff Know-How Showing, And Time is Just About Up

Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ toughie of a 102-93 road loss to the Knicks in Game 4 of their playoff series on Sunday.Donovan Mitchell tries to keep the ball away from Isaiah Hartenstein and Josh Hart

1. In the immortal words of Larry Bird, “I know when we lead a playoff series 3-1, I say it’s over.”

2. That is where these Cavaliers stand today. Down 3-1, with at least one more game in New York. That is, if the Cavs can get back there again.

3. Of course, Cleveland knows all about overcoming 3-1 deficits. Who can forget that 2016 championship run? But I suspect this team doesn’t have it in them.

4. Before the playoffs, I predicted this might be coming for the Cavs’ younger core. I predicted it mostly in private, to family and friends. I said too many key Cavs will be playoff rookies (Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, Isaac Okoro). 

5. I also said the Cavs had a better regular season than the Knicks — but not that much better. I believed the series could go either way, but that the Knicks have players such as Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle and Josh Hart, and were more likely to win a road game.

6. Now some of my family and friends are avoiding me because my worst-case scenarios have proven to be true.

7. Garland was bad in the first half after playing terribly in Game 3. Then he really came to life in the third quarter. Sadly, the rest of the Cavs didn’t come along with him.

8. Donovan Mitchell may have had his worst postseason showing in Donovan Mitchell history. And I have no idea what’s happened to Jarrett Allen. The Cavs’ frontcourt has been totally outplayed by Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein. It’s an especially embarrassing showing for the Cavs on the boards.

9. While I had my doubts about the Cavs overall, I did not see any of the above coming at any point in this series.

10. Okoro and Cedi Osman are nice guys and play hard. But if the Cavs want to keep this from happening next season, they absolutely have to upgrade the small forward position. That’s been far from their biggest issue in the postseason — but it is an issue.

11. Another thing I didn’t expect was the Cavs to start these games in New York looking so timid and out of sorts. I thought they might struggle to make shots. I thought they may make some turnovers. But for three of four games, the Knicks have played with so much more energy and determination.

12. Garland finished with 23 points and 10 assists. He played with fire after halftime. But Mitchell scored 11 on 5-of-18 shooting. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau has put in a masterful plan to contain Mitchell since Game 1 of the series, and the Knicks backcourt has executed.

13. The Cavs’ only chance to win three straight is for coach J.B. Bickerstaff to counter and get Mitchell going again in Game 5. Somehow, someway, you have to make it easier for your star player to deliver.

14. Do I think the series is over? Yes. Have I been wrong before? You’d better believe it.

15. The Cavs don’t have to win three games on Wednesday. They only have to win one. So go out, pull it together, and get the victory. Worry about the rest after that.

16. You have nothing to lose if you’re the Cavs. And sometimes, being in this situation can benefit a young team. For the most part, the Cavs have played tight and as if they didn’t really believe they could win.

17. Now, the pressure is on the Knicks to close it out. Maybe the Cavs can use that to their advantage, playing easy and free, as opposed to all nervous and stiff. Right now, that’s their only chance, and frankly, even that feels slim.

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  1. JB doesn’t seem like he has much in his arsenal this playoffs beyond coach speak. It’s painful to watch. And he doesn’t seem locked in to every play of the game, the details. He’s not treating it like every possession matters in X’s in O’s, the coach’s responsibility. He’s just saying it to the players, hoping it will help them. He seems a little overwhelmed, to be honest. He also doesn’t seem in charge when he needs to be. And he hasn’t been taking enough responsibility in press conferences. Just predictable re-used narratives that he’s using as excuses.

    It’s the same stuff you pointed out Sam. Inexperience, youth, etc. But a good coach, with talent this immense, against a team not that talented, should be able to still outplay this team. There are issues with who’s not playing, when guys are playing, matchups, strategies, communication, and more. Youth and inexperience is the easy go-to excuse because it’s lazy and easy.

    The Knicks have young guys too, inexperienced guys too. Why isn’t Thibs making the same excuses for Barrett? Because he’s busy planning for him to be successful. This team is completely outreached. Thibs is so locked in, and JB is focused on something completely different.

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