Dribbles: Season Ends With Heartbreak, But Cavs’ Promising Future Just Tipping Off

CLEVELAND — Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ 107-101 season-ending home loss to the Hawks on Friday.

1. Let’s start with this: What a season from the Cavs. They are hurting and understandably disappointed. They won’t be going to the playoffs. But it took nearly every last second of the season to eliminate them.Cleveland Cavaliers

2. Remember, we all had them pegged to win about 30 games. Remember, they lost Collin Sexton and then Ricky Rubio for the season. They lost Darius Garland and then Jarrett Allen for significant stretches — especially Allen. Yet there they were, in contention for the playoffs until the bitter end.

3. And just think, if the play-in tournament hadn’t been invented, the Cavs would in fact be headed for the postseason.

4. But those are the brakes. The Cavs had to face Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Nets, followed by Trae Young and the Hawks, to try to earn the right to continue on. That was too tall a task for a team with such a young core. 

5. No shame in any of that. Really. Not very many teams could have answered that bell, even veteran teams.

6. Yes, it hurts. But again, man, this is just the beginning of what should be really cool things to come in Cleveland.

7. In this particular game, the Cavs’ youth showed. Let’s not forget, these are the same Hawks that won a Game 7 on the road and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals last season.

8. Afterward, Young said “the game slowed down” for him. It showed, as he had six points at halftime … and finished with a whopping 38 for the game. He has been in big games before. He knew when it was winning time.

9. Meanwhile, the Cavs were stunned. They led by 14 at one point. Next thing you knew, Young caught fire and the Hawks took the lead. It was too much to overcome for a young team that had never been in this situation.Darius Garland

10. While the Hawks were slowing down, the Cavs looked like they were getting sped up. So yes, the Cavs fell apart. They learned some hard lessons, but lessons they can take with them moving forward.

11. As ESPN analyst Mark Jackson said, “You can’t undervalue experience.”

12. Jackson was talking about how the Hawks won. They didn’t have a drop of doubt, even after trailing by double digits at halftime. 

13. As for the Cavs leaders, Lauri Markkanen was mostly fantastic, especially in the first half, on his way to scoring a team-high 26 points. That included 6-of-12 shooting on 3-pointers. He also pulled down eight rebounds.

14. Garland scored 21, but was just 9-of-27 from the field. Evan Mobley went for 18 points and eight boards, offering further evidence that he deserves to be named Rookie of the Year. And what a chasedown block. Hopefully you’ve seen it.

15. Caris LeVert added 16 points, and Allen made his return from a broken finger after missing 19 games. He made an impact by finishing 4-of-4 shooting for 11 points. With Allen, they are a different club.

16. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff on the season: “This is the most fun I’ve had since I’ve been in the NBA. This has been the most special group of guys I’ve been around collectively.” 

17. Bickerstaff wasn’t finished. “I have not been around a group of guys who care so much about each other,” he said. “Everything they did the entire year was for the greater good of the team. … I didn’t have one bad day going to work with these guys.”

18. It’s easy to point out all the things the Cavs did wrong in this game. How they melted down, how the ball sort of stuck in the second half, how they allowed Young to really get going. But you’re missing the big picture if that’s your entire focus.

19. Now, Cavs president of basketball operations Koby Altman will have some decisions to make. Sexton is a restricted free agent, and that is always a world of unknown. They will have a first-round draft pick, protected in the Rubio-LeVert trade with Indiana. They will have to get a little a deeper. And oh yeah, Kevin Love will be entering the final year of his contract.

20. But none of those decisions will be made today, perhaps not even this month, or next. Now is strictly a time to reflect on a season that no one expected. It ended in disappointment. It also ended a lot closer to the playoffs than anyone expected, and it did so with an incredibly young core with what NBA commissioner Adam Silver called “a really rosy future.”

21. That is the only thing the Cavs and their fans need to be thinking about right now. And that is a really rosy place to start.

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