When it comes to the Cavaliers’ 126-109 road win over the Knicks on Sunday, it’s hard to know where to begin.
Actually, you can probably start with Ricky Rubio, clearly the best backup point guard in the NBA. And he plays in Cleveland. And he scored 37 points, repeatedly burning the nets (and Knicks defenders). And he almost always found the open man when the Knicks dared to double- or triple-team him.
It’s true, as about the only thing Rubio did wrong was miss his final 3-point attempt. Before that, he had made eight in a row. He also finished with 10 assists. Those are the kind of stats Michael Jordan used to put up in Madison Square Garden and made all the world gush.
“I don’t know,” Rubio told Bally Sports Cleveland’s Angel Gray when asked what had gotten in to him. “The ball went in, I’ve been working hard … it’s a great win.”
But this win was more than Rubio.
You don’t ride a four-game winning streak with just one man. This has been a teamwide effort in the truest sense.
On Sunday, the Cavs did it again not just without Kevin Love and Lauri Markkanen (COVID protocols), and Isaac Okoro (hamstring), but also without leading scorer Collin Sexton for most of the second half. Sexton suffered a knee injury and was removed from the game in the third quarter.
Yet the Cavs (7-4) kept right on chugging along. They outscored the Knicks by a 33-18 count in the third quarter to break open a close game. They did more than enough to maintain that lead the rest of the way.
Don’t look know, but this young team written off by most of America is suddenly becoming the NBA’s version of America’s team.
And they have done most of it on the road, where eight of their 11 games have take place. Now, they get eight of their next nine at home. How does that sound for a sunny forecast?
That they did, with Mobley looking magnificent on his way to 26 points, nine rebounds and five underrated assists. The kid is making a major difference, and he’s not even 20 games in.
Meanwhile, Allen went for 18 points, 17 boards and a team-high two steals.
Then again, the outside game wasn’t too shabby, either — as the Cavs buried 19 threes. Darius Garland (16 points, 4-of-5 on 3-pointers), Dylan Windler (nine points, 3-of-4 on threes) and Rubio were the biggest reasons why.
“I mean, there’s a lot of guys who can score, there’s a lot of guys who can do a lot of things on this team,” Rubio told Gray. “It’s not just a one-man show. We show it every night.”
The Knicks (6-4) really like to muck up the game under coach Tom Thibodeau, and for much of the first half, that’s exactly what they did.
But they had no plan when Rubio caught fire — other than to maybe to get the ball out of hands. And even when they did, it usually just went through the hoop.
As usual, some real credit belongs to coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who has his players calm and productive. He has successfully coached the Cavs out of a tough injury situation, utilizing eight or nine guys a night and getting the most out of each.
“It all goes back to the chemistry that the guys have,” Bickerstaff told reporters. “They don’t care who takes the shot. You know what I mean? There’s not one guy who feels like it has to be (his) night every night. … Right now the guys are letting the game dictate who gets the shot and when they get it.”
While the final numbers may not show it, Dean Wade, Cedi Osman, Windler and even Lamar Stevens contributed in their own way on Sunday. It seems nobody is forcing a thing, staying within themselves ad focusing on getting another win.
It’s working, and the Cavs actually seem to be getting better every time out.