Dribbles: Cavs Lost It, Then Had It Won, Then Their Gain Became Pain in Home Opener

CLEVELAND — Random dribbles from the Cavaliers’ toughie of a 108-105 loss to the Thunder in the home opener on Friday.Donovan Mitchell

1. For a long time, it seemed the Cavs had no chance. Or at least, it sure felt that way in the first half, when they sort of slogged their way to 42 points and 3-of-22 shooting on 3-pointers.

2. But wait. They scratched and clawed and battled back. It didn’t hurt that some of the shots they usually make finally started going in.

3. With 2:00 left in the game, the Cavs held a 102-93 lead against a young opponent playing its second straight on the road. But for the Cavs, suddenly, nothing went right. It just about all went wrong.

4. Oklahoma City closed the game on a 15-3 run. How they scored 15 points in less than two minutes … well, that’s not something the Cavs want to relive. 

5. So it’s hard to tell what this was. A late-game collapse? Or a comeback that fell short? I’m unfortunately going to pick the former. But let’s face it, the Cavs were without Darius Garland (hamstring) and still, Jarrett Allen (ankle). That’s 40 percent of the starting lineup.

6. So once again, Donovan Mitchell had to try to play superhero, and it almost worked. The Cavs’ final three points came via a remarkable Mitchell jumper with a defender right in his mug. That cut it to 106-105. 

7. The Cavs were forced to foul, then couldn’t get off a shot. And that was that. Mitchell scored 43.

8. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff on the end: “We gave up 3-pointers. That’s the only way you get back in the game. We had some breakdowns that led to some open looks. But again, they made theirs tonight when it mattered.”

9. As for the Cavs … yeah, not so much.

10. Bickerstaff clearly was not pleased when Isaac Okoro got elbowed in the face and had to be taken back to the locker room — and yet was called for a foul on the play. “He took a shot to the head and they allowed play to continue,” Bickerstaff said. “Then they called a foul on him when he’s lying on the ground. That’s a tough one.”

11. Caris LeVert was second on the team in scoring with 17 points, though they seemed fairly quiet. Still, he stayed aggressive when not many others were connecting.

12. Evan Mobley went for 14, with a game-high 15 rebounds. It was quite a battle between Mobley and Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren, who finished with 16 points, 13 rebounds, and a whopping seven blocked shots.

13. Okoro finished with 10 points, though most came in the first quarter. Max Strus was way off much of the night, finishing with eight points on 3-of-14 shooting. That included 2-of-11 on threes. Overall, the Cavs were a miserable 12-of-45 from behind the arc.

14. As for the state of things, it’d be more concerning if they lost this game had Garland played. You could see they struggled to get into the offense early. The Cavs also got considerably fewer looks at the basket without the threat of Garland drive-and-lob plays.

15. Mitchell on the loss: “A few minor mistakes that just compounded. We’re not gonna hang our heads on this one. It’s the second game of the year.”

17. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 34 points. Like Mitchell, he just scores basically whenever he wants.

16. On the bright side, the Cavs don’t have time to sit around and pout. This is the NBA and there’s always another game. So yes, the Cavs are right back at it Saturday against the Pacers, also at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. FYI: Indiana star guard Tyrese Haliburton is questionable with a non-COVID illness.

17. Finally, I asked Mitchell about why he winced on the game’s final play, wondering if he had done something to his foot or his shin. But it was actually a case of the cramps, in both legs, that began with about 2:00 remaining. “Just gotta hydrate better,” he said.

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