Dribbles: Cavs Put on Show vs. Grizzlies, But Ending Demands a Sequel

Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ 115-114 road loss to the Grizzlies on Wednesday. …Jarrett Allen

1. There were lots of things to like for the Cavs in this one. But it was like going to see a movie that was really good the whole way through, only to disappoint at the end. It had it all. Drama, suspense, and maybe even a small dose of comedy. And then … pain.

2. That was the Cavs. Still, this matchup undoubtedly deserves a sequel. As I wrote on Twitter, maybe this was a preview of a down-the-road Finals. Both teams have young cores and are already going places.

3. The Cavs trailed by 19 with no Donovan Mitchell (groin). Then they battled all the way back and took a lead. With time running out, they were up 114-113 and had the ball. But Isaac Okoro couldn’t get it in bounds. He was instead whistled for a five-second violation.

4. The Cavs had a timeout there. Not sure why it wasn’t called.

5. So the Grizzlies got another shot, and that’s a bad thing to give Ja Morant. Actually, Morant missed his driving layup — but forced Cavs defenders to collapse toward the basket. That opened the lane for Grizzlies center Steven Adams, who tipped it in.

6. So the Cavs get the ball back, down one, with enough time — but again, no timeout called. Again, not sure why.

7. This isn’t to fault coach J.B. Bickerstaff. There were plenty reasons the Cavs lost this game. For the record, I wasn’t there, so I didn’t have a chance to ask why a timeout was just sort of left hanging there at the end. I don’t know that anyone asked.

8. Darius Garland was again very good in Mitchell’s absence, scoring a game-high 24 points with 11 assists — his second straight game with 11, actually. With our without Mitchell, Garland seems to be playing his best basketball of the season over the past several weeks.

9. You could also really say the same about Okoro and Evan Mobley. Okoro was dynamite with 17 points on 6-of-6 shooting, including 4-of-4 on 3-pointers. It’s been a small sample size, but this is more like it for Okoro. Now, he needs to stay out of the habit of just sort of running around out there. These days, he’s making a difference.

10. Yes, it was Okoro who failed to inbound the ball at the end. But this is a young team that was playing a very good team in its own building. There will be young team mistakes.

11. Bickerstaff on Okoro’s improvement, via Bally Sports: “It’s the confidence in himself, the work that he puts in, the belief that his teammates have in him. It’s about being who you are. I thought he did a great job of taking his shots and being aggressive when he needed to be aggressive.”

11. Meanwhile, Mobley is starting to look more comfortable, and he played big on this night, finishing with 18 points and 15 rebounds. He and Jarrett Allen (14 points) did an underrated job of altering shots on countless occasions, as well.

12. P.S. Whenever the Cavs are playing poorly, individually or as a team, I call them out. So please don’t get mad at me when I’m nice. It’s true that this loss had a disappointing finish. But I think you have to like the effort. If the Cavs play well, but still lose without their leading scorer … well, those are just the brakes. Certainly nothing to fret about in the middle of January.

13. It was just a very good game between two very promising teams. Somebody has to lose. “That’s what everybody tunes in to watch,” Allen sad of the matchup.

14. Caris LeVert started in Mitchell’s spot and gave one of his best showings of the season, finishing with 23 points, six assists and 4-of-7 shooting on threes. More of that from LeVert and those trade rumors will die down quickly.

15. What the Cavs (28-18) continue to lack is consistency from the bench,. Ricky Rubio is still working his way back and struggled to 2-of-7 shooting. But was solid overall with seven points, four rebounds and three assists in 12 minutes. 

16. Frankly, I would have liked to have to seen Rubio or Kevin Love inbounding the ball there at the end. Usually, you go with a veteran in those situations. But again, not a big deal. There’s only one way for Okoro and the other young guns to learn.

17. Desmond Bane led the Grizzlies (31-13) with 25 points, and Morant scored 24. Memphis has won a league-best 11 straight. They are what I expect the Cavs to be next season.

18. Well, if you’ve made it this far … thanks. For the record, I will soon be adding a Substack e-mail newsletter to my NBA coverage. I promise to only charge $5 a month. It will feature some exclusive behind-the-scenes content, interviews, etc. Details soon.

19. Also soon is the defending champion Warriors’ lone visit to Cleveland. That takes place on Friday. I’ll be there and we shall dribble again.

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