Dribbles: Shorthanded Cavs Show Grit, Unity In Overtaking Pacers

Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ gutsy 108-103 road win over the Indiana Pacers on Monday. …Caris LeVert, Cleveland Cavaliers, Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers, NBA

1. Less than a week after beating the New Orleans Pelicans on the road, the Cavs beat the Pacers on the road. Both are good teams, playoff-bound teams. Also in there, the Cavs lost to the Houston Rockets. They’re not playoff-bound.

2. Yeah, I can’t figure it out, either. But you can’t complain about this one. The Cavs were just more determined, more unified than the other guy. They may be playing around .500 since the All-Star break, but they’ve had some quality wins lately. This was one of them.

3. It again came without the injured Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley, Max Strus and Dean Wade. But man oh man, Caris LeVert (23 points, 11 assists) sure showed up. So did Jarrett Allen (also 23 with nine rebounds). Actually, so did everyone in his own way.

4. While the stats are what we always check first, the defense really did a number on the high-scoring Pacers. It was just a lot of grit and hustle and second-chance opportunities. If you didn’t know any better, you’d have thought the Cavs were in a playoff game. Winning just seemed that important to them.

5. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff told reporters he sent a message of “who we needed to be” without Mitchell and the others. “I thought our guys responded in spades,” he added. 

6. Six players scored in double figures, including Marcus Morris, signed to a 10-day contract earlier in the day. He buried four 3-pointers and scored 12 points in his first three quarters as a Cavalier, finishing with 14 points in all.

7. Congratulations, Coach Bickerstaff. You now have yet another man who deserves minutes. So make it about 11 or 12 when everyone is healthy.

8. Hey, it’s a good problem, right? Right.

9. Darius Garland struggled shooting by going 5-of-19 overall and 1-of-9 on threes for 13 points. But he led the way by taking care of business in the other areas. Georges Niang added 13 on 5-of-8 shooting and his usual dose of scrappiness. Sam Merrill came off the bench to score 11. Allen was a major nuisance defensively to go with his 8-of-12 shooting (and 7-of-8 on free throws).

10. Oh, LeVert also collected eight rebounds, just missing a triple-double. But perhaps his best play came when he pick-pocketed unsuspecting Pacers All-Star Tyrese Haliburton.

11. At the time, Haliburton was casually dribbling to set up the offense as he always does. It just goes to show that LeVert and the Cavs were determined to never let Indiana get too comfortable.

12. The Cavs (42-25) did indeed throw a few different looks at the Pacers. It didn’t go unnoticed. “Give Cleveland credit. A couple possessions they went zone and surprised us a little bit,” said Pacers guard T.J. McConnell. “… Credit to them for switching it up.”

13. Meanwhile, Tristan Thompson played 14 minutes and it’s rare for a guy to make an impact with just two points and four boards. But this is Thompson we’re talking about and he always finds a way. Same goes for Isaac Okoro, who scored nine without forcing a thing.

14. Pascal Siakam led Indiana (38-31) with 19 points and 12 rebounds, and likely leads the league in throwing an elbow into his defender and having the defender be called for the foul. That was his speciality in Toronto and it hasn’t changed. Very good player — but the Cavs didn’t let his physical play get to their heads.

15. So that ends a daunting three-game trip in which the Cavs won two. I admit, I’m surprised. They return home to face Miami on Wednesday, before ending the workweek in Minnesota on Friday. I have no predictions. At this point, it’d be silly to make one.

16. The Cavs haven’t won two straight since the end of February. That’s not a big deal given all the injuries. All they have to do is win enough to stay afloat until the rest of the regulars presumably return, and keep approaching these games as if they’re getting geared up for the postseason. Those boxes are currently checked.

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