Dribbles: Cavs Lite Fight With All Their Might, But Can’t Keep Pace With Indiana

CLEVELAND — Random dribbles from the Cavaliers’ 125-113 home loss to the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.Max Strus and Georges Niang battle for the ball with Aaron Nesmith

1. It was the third game of the season and the Cavs were missing three starters and their two leading scorers from last season. What did we expect to happen?

2. Actually, no one probably figured the Cavs would build an early 15-point lead behind the aggressiveness and productivity of Caris LeVert. The man was just on fire. 

3. Then the Pacers started to throw double teams his way, being more physical, trying to take the ball out of his hands. That was basically all she wrote. LeVert finished with 31 points, and where he sort of left off, Evan Mobley picked up in the second half.

4. But unfortunately for the Cavs, there just wasn’t enough without the likes of Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland or Jarrett Allen. Even backup point guard Ty Jerome was out with an ankle issue.

5. So the Cavs (1-2) had a lot of players trying to do things they’re not normally asked to do — and frankly, that no one expects them to do. But man, they all did try anyway.

6. Every time the Cavs started to come back and get within a basket or two … boom, the Pacers buried another three. That’s not uncommon, Indiana scored a franchise-opening-high 143 in a win over the Wizards a couple nights ago. They had all their guys, and that always helps, too.

7. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff on the effort: “I thought the guys competed. Coming off last night’s game and then obviously being a little short-handed. Those guys went out and competed their tails off. Some of (Indiana’s) threes came because we just ran out of gas. We’re asking guys to play long stretches, but again, take your hat off to the guys that were out there.”

8. Mobley erupted for 33 points and 14 rebounds, delivering one of his best nights as a pro after a slow start to the game. He just went into full attack mode in the second half, showing fight and giving Cavs Lite a fighting chance.

9. Bickerstaff on Mobley: “We want Evan to dominate the paint. I think tonight he did that on both ends. He rebounded on both ends and obviously how he was attacking the rim. Each of our guys has ownership of this team and we ask them to lead in different ways. That was an example of Evan’s leadership.”

10. Max Strus added 21 points and 12 boards, his second 12-rebound game in three tries. Not bad for a shooting guard. But as Strus suggested, without Allen, the Cavs could use the help on the glass.

11. In the end, it was just too much Indiana, with Aaron Nesmith coming off the bench for 26 points. Tyrese Haliburton, who had been experiencing a bout with the stomach flu coming in, was as good as ever with 21 points and 13 assists.

12. The silver lining to all the injuries? Emoni Bates, Craig Porter Jr., Tristan Thompson and Sam Merrill all saw the court for the first time. The bad news? The Cavs’ bench was outscored by a 61-11 count. Maybe because three of the Cleveland reserves were forced to start.

13. Bickerstaff has repeatedly praised LeVert for his always-changing role and positive attitude, calling him a man of “many masks.” LeVert confirmed he doesn’t mind.

14. LeVert on that topic: “I just love basketball and I love being challenged. I think that’s something that keeps my interest high. Definitely not easy but I was always someone who liked figuring stuff out. I always like puzzles and stuff like that. I was kind of a nerd as a kid. I kind of look at it as the same thing, figuring it out. It’s fun for me honestly.”

15. Next up: A playoff rematch with the Knicks, Tuesday at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. The teams meet again the next night in New York.

16. Does Bickerstaff think the Cavs are ready? “Yeah, we have to get healthy. I think that matters,” he said. “We’ve got a couple days here, where hopefully we can get some rest and the guys who have been out can get back. The team hasn’t had an opportunity to be whole. And I think that matters for us. Missing three of your starters and trying to find that continuity with a new group is difficult.”

17. The Cavs are praying for the return of Mitchell, Garland and Allen before then. “We’ll see,” Bickerstaff said. “I’m hopeful. But we’ll see.”

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