Dribbles: Cavs’ Season Ends, And Now Another Important Season Begins

CLEVELAND — Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ 106-95 season-ending home loss to the Knicks in Game 5 of their playoff series on Wednesday.Darius Garland hugs Isaac Okoro

1. Well, that’s it. Season over. Just like that. A 51-31 year … with loads of promise … just vanished into thin air.

2. It’s hard to believe it happened so quickly.

3. But man, did it go fast. The Knicks utterly dominated — physically, emotionally, and in overall playoff maturity. It was just straight taking care of business. Aside from Game 2, where the Knicks sort of self-imploded, the Cavs had zero answers.

4. No one wanted to believe me when I said the Knicks would not be an easy matchup. Actually, the readers did. Those closest to me did not. They didn’t want to hear it. I worried about the Cavs’ lack of playoff experience, that THREE starters (Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, Isaac Okoro) and a few others were playoff rookies.

5. I actually asked a friend before Game 1: “What will happen if the Knicks take the ball out of Donovan Mitchell‘s hands? Can those other guys deliver in a playoff series?”

6. That’s what the Knicks did. The others did not deliver.

7. Yes, Mitchell scored 28 in the final game of the season. But they were a quiet 28. The Knicks blitzed him at every opportunity. For the final four games, every shot was difficult. Even when Mitchell had 13 assists in Game 2, that was not a good sign. It meant the Knicks had turned him into a facilitator.

8. Granted, I write all that knowing Mitchell is a fabulous player and an even better guy. His presence and talent were a great thing for this organization this year and will be so again next. But the Knicks figured out how to frustrate him.

9. I also write it knowing that wasn’t the Cavs’ biggest issue (though they managed to score 100 or more just once in five games). How they were utterly dominated in the rebounding department … well, let’s just say I never saw that coming. But to a man, they talked about the Knicks’ physicality in this series, and how it proved to be too much to overcome.

10. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau is a master in these situations. Jalen Brunson has emerged as one of the league’s toughest point guards. The Knicks have size and togetherness. And the addition of Josh Hart may have been The Trade at the February deadline. He has proven to be the ultimate X-factor, as New York is 21-9 since the deal.

11. Garland on the biggest lesson learned from the season: “That you don’t want to feel this feeling. That’s all I can think of right now.”

12. Mitchell on his own feelings: “We did a lot of special things this year, but for it to end this way … (shakes head) doesn’t feel right.”

13. Mitchell admitted the Knicks threw a lot of things at him that he hadn’t seen during the regular season. “I don’t feel like the player I needed to be for this group,” he said. “That’s what will keep me up at night.”

14. Mobley and Jarrett Allen were non-factors for the majority of the series. This may have been the worst five-game stretch of Allen’s career. He just seemed way out of sorts, almost defeated, in trying to handle Knicks center Mitchell Robinson. Mobley played hard, but this was a whole new world for him.

15. Anyway, again, these are just the tough lessons learned in the playoffs. It’s a different ball game. As coach J.B. Bickerstaff indicated after the game, you can talk all you want about the playoffs being a level above the regular season — but you don’t really know it until you experience it.

16. Fans are angry. Some are calling for Bickerstaff’s job. Some want to trade Allen. Others are bashing Garland, and even Mitchell.

17. I don’t think any of it is necessary. You don’t gut the team because you lost in the first round. Not when you’re this young. What would that really accomplish? Advancing to the second round next year? These Cavs could and should do that, anyway.

18. Let’s face it, nobody expected the Cavs to be true contenders this year. Those who are upset will tell you they lost to a worse opponent. Well, I sure don’t think that. When this series began, I said it over and over and over: The Cavs might be better than the Knicks, but if they are, they’re not much better.

19. That said, the Cavs do have to find a way to improve the bench. They have to find a real starting small forward. Caris LeVert is a free agent. He actually had a nice series. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s re-signed. The Cavs also have a team option on Cedi Osman‘s contract. I think we may have seen the last of him in a Cleveland uniform. Okoro may have some trade value. I’d explore it. I really like Okoro, but he’s probably a seventh or eighth man in most places.

20. Clearly, the Cavs also have to find some help up front. You don’t need to mortgage the farm to make that happen. Signing a veteran free agent such as a Hassan Whiteside or DeMarcus Cousins would hardly break the bank.

21. The Cavs have no first-round draft picks. They likely don’t have the assets to acquire any in a trade. They won’t have a lot of money to spend in free agency. They aren’t bringing in another star. But as the Knicks proved by getting Hart, you don’t need a star. You need a fit.

22. President of basketball operations Koby Altman will get right to work, that much we know. He pulled off the Mitchell trade last summer. He wants the Cavs to come back better, stronger next season — even more than you do.

23. But frankly, as Bickerstaff said, every young team needs to go through what the Cavs just went through. “It sucks,” Bickerstaff said, but added that’s really the only way to grow and improve.

24. There’s a lot of stuff we didn’t cover here. I’ll keep writing about it in the days to come. Hoops Wire is actually expanding its coverage of the entire NBA. But I’ll still do the Cavs and have a lot more to say. Until then, just wanted to say thanks for following along. I’m extremely grateful you allow this to continue to be my job. 

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    You seemed to address almost ALL the concerns I have observed also. #1. A backup center for rebounding (collecting those very early fouls was, I believe, an intentional move for the Knicks to throw Cav’s bigs in a “deer in the headlights” status–succeeded) #2. Getting a real shooter for the 3 position. #3. BENCH ! nuff said about the bench–the whole bench. (Keep Stevens, why he wasn’t playing more if the others weren’t making shots?? I don’t know –he’s been a Junkyard dog at times like the Knicks were throwing at the Cav’s. He DID make his only attempted 3ball)(Keep Danny Green around for awhile to see what he can really do?, Levert, Sam Merrill, Isaiah Mobley, Diakite, Maybe Okoro for 1 more??? but be thinking the rest could go in a package deal for maybe a late pick or two. This bench needs help.

    BUT # 4. Garland & Mobley need to regroup, untrack & unpack and get to a “not so predictable” mode & get SHOTS to GO IN the basket. Get back to “Allstar” status.
    You can see how “Unpredictable” Jalen Brunson IS. You just don’t know which way he’s going & the Cav’s rarely figured that out. He just had a way of getting his shot off & it was determined to fall in ! If the Cav’s can do something on the order you have mentioned, They could do much better next year, if not,,,, hmmm. Like the Whiteside comment, a lot.

    Thanks for the Dribbles !

  2. Cavs have a power struggle going on for roles and pecking order. Its a peaceful struggle (even worse cus it lingers), it is not settled, and leaves us playing inconsistent and confused.

    Is Mitchell doing too much? I wonder what percentage of Cavs fans have asked themselves this. He’s a great talent, but is going to that well as often as we do really wise for the success of the team? And why is Mitchell ir anybody else talking like he’s won championships and is here to bless us with the sharing of secrets that will unlock us “knowing how to win” as the narrative usually goes. How deep has he gone? Meanwhile there are guys open under the basket while fall away jumpers go brick brick brick. So we’re all looking over at coach.

    Garland played well when he knew it was his time to do so. The rest of the time, he seems to defer to Mitchell. No shots in a second half? Our Darius Garland? How could this ever happen? Our best shooter? In a playoff game?? Im looking over at coach.

    Mobley. Why no iso situations? Playing in traffic is CLEARLY not his physical strength right now. Why must everything be off a cut towards the basket? Theyre loving having him come in that way, just one smart bump and he’s off balance. Give his talent space and time to operate! We allowed the Knicks to make him look pedestrian or worse, skinny pedestrian in the NBA paint. Let him back a guy down in an iso!! Doesnt work the first time so you abandon one of your sharpest tools? Im looking over at coach.

    Raise your hand if you though Robin Lopez came to the Cavs to be a big physical presence in the playoffs? To help combat the physicality of the playoffs (the KNICKS in this case). To take 5 fouls. To wear down Randle and their semi-skinny center who managed to physically dominate us. To make them burn more energy and have less of it at the end of the game, to make them WORK. Well it seemed like that was the reason, until it didnt happen. Who is responsible for this dereliction of duty? Im looking over at the coach.

    While Cavs are are figuring out what they want to do. Who they want let do what.. the Knicks are following thru with their plan to attack us in every way possible, with everything they have, together, as a team,, where they ALL know, players AND coaches, their roles, their strengths, and their identity and goals as a team.

    So I hear you on the young talent, first playoffs thing. But that’s not a reality that is written in stone for every team. There are rookies that play well in the playoffs. I believe that our rookies, yes some had a rude awakening at first, but there was time to make adjustments. Proper adjustments can return a young man’s confidence to him. It takes a special type of leader to be able to see all this stuff going on at once, and have the level headedness to look for solutions rather than addressing damage control, hurt feelings, and PR concerns.

    These arent children, theyre grown men. They can learn, adjust, and try new things. They just need to be coached. So Im looking over at coach.

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