Cavs tested against top teams in absence of Donovan Mitchell


Courtesy of Ron Schwane/Associated Press

Milwaukee Bucks centers Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis attempt to block Cleveland Cavaliers center Evan Mobley

Ishan Kulkarni, Staff Writer

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been a source of excitement this season, fueled by a strong core along with the offseason addition of All-Star shooting guard Donovan Mitchell. The team has hovered around the middle of the playoff seeds over the past few weeks, and are attempting to secure a top seed in the competitive Eastern Conference. 

Mitchell has been playing some of his best basketball with this Cavaliers team, highlighted by a team record-high 71 points in a close win against the Chicago Bulls in early January. Unfortunately, Mitchell suffered a groin injury in a win against the New Orleans Pelicans and missed three games against top playoff teams, challenging the rest of the team to step up in their All-Star’s absence. 

In their first game of this three-game span, the team hit the road against the Memphis Grizzlies in a close game. The game came down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter where the Grizzlies ultimately prevailed off a rough Cavaliers sequence. The Cavaliers were charged with a 5-second violation off a sideline inbound with 27.1 seconds left in the game. In the next possession, the Cavs gave up an offensive tip-in by Memphis center Steven Adams. Cavs point guard Darius Garland had a final opportunity to answer but his 3-point attempt was blocked by Grizzlies’ forward Dillon Brooks to seal a 115-114 Grizzlies win. 

The team hoped to turn things around in a back-to-back home stand against the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors, and one of the top-seeded teams in the Eastern Conference, the Milwaukee Bucks. Cleveland was looking to capitalize on a Warriors team that chose to rest four starters–Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green–after a grueling overtime loss against the Boston Celtics the night before. 

It should have been an easy Cavs win but they struggled to keep up with the Warriors, trailing by 15 with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter. They chipped away to a four point game, but Warriors guard Ty Jerome hit a clutch 3-pointer with a minute and a half to go which put the Warriors up seven, killing Cleveland’s momentum. Garland and guard Caris LeVert had 31 and 22 points, respectively, but it was not enough to overcome Warriors’ guard Jordan Poole’s 32 points and Ty Jerome’s 22 points. Ultimately, the Cavaliers lost 120-114. 

The Cavs were highly motivated to get a win and eyed the Bucks, who were missing All-Stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. The intensity of the team was clearly higher all night, and even Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff was fired up out of his seat for most of the game. Cavs forward Evan Mobley came to play and was a problem for the Bucks defense all night as he attacked the basket with his tremendous length and athleticism. The Cavaliers also played much better defensively, getting six more steals than the Bucks and finishing the game with seven less turnovers. Mobley’s 38 points, Garland’s 21 points and a solid all-around team performance propelled the Cavs to a 114-102 win.

Looking ahead, the Cavs have another series of home games to take advantage of, with match-ups against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Miami Heat and a rematch against the Memphis Grizzlies. As the season approaches its midpoint, the Cavs are hoping to make a strong push before the All-Star break to solidify their spot in the upper half of the Eastern Conference.