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RCF Recap: Cavs bring a knife to a gun fight

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  • There’s an argument of rest versus rust when it comes to a team coming off a competitive series and one lying in wait. That may be a valid argument for another time, but Game 1 looked like an argument of better versus best. No Kristaps Porzingis, no rust, no issue for the Boston Celtics. The Cavs had a streak but at no point did they consistently look like the better team.
  • The Celtics are good. We knew this coming in, and we knew this with the Cavs missed two rotational players. However, we thought there would be a little bit more of a game then it ended up being. The fourth quarter was relatively noncompetitive, and the white flag was waived the final five minutes of the game. Sigh.
  • JB Bickerstaff’s opponent remains undefeated when the Cavs play on the road.
  • Also add another sub-100-point performance, and there’s very little chance the Cavs can survive the league’s best offense with that output.
  • Anyway, to the game.
  • It’s not like the game started any better. The Celtics started quick with a 10-2 run hitting two threes with the Cavs missing theirs – perhaps it was a sign of things to come.
  • To further that, Darius Garland came up with two perimeter misses and a bad pass while Evan Mobley was pump faking Derrick White on a mismatch in the post – perhaps also a sign of things to come.
  • Starting the game, it was eye opening to see the amount of space created on the floor with the Celtics lineup. They space you out so well 1-5 and create a decision for your defense: Force individual point-of-attack defenders to hold up against Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum so help defenders can stay attached to shooters or sag off to help on Brown and Tatum and let the shooters make their mark. Either way, you’re choosing versus two perennial All-Stars or the league’s best shooting team.
  • Early on, Max Strus was losing that battle. Brown is a good player, but he was in getting whatever and wherever he wanted. Brown had 15 first quarter points included 5-for-6 from the field, and 4-for-4 from the free-throw line.
  • Speaking of Strus, how many times will he step on the sidelines for a turnover?
  • After the Celtics came out to a quick 10-2 lead, the Cavs had an 8-0 response of their own. Not shockingly it came with two made three-pointers: One by Isaac Okoro on a kick out and one by Donovan Mitchell pulling up off drop coverage.
  • The Celtics are willing to give the Cavs that pull-up three off picks. Al Hoford was hanging back in drop most of the evening. Mitchell was 3-for-5 on three-pointers in the first quarter while Darius Garland was 1-for-3.
  • Rolling that 8-0 run into a bigger run, the Cavs managed to parlay it into a 21-11 run. Another shocker: The Cavs made 5 three-pointers in that span. Throw in another one made by Mitchell, Okoro and Garland.
  • Seeing Okoro be aggressive on the offense end and make his perimeter shots is always fun to see. When Okoro is playing decisive and confident, he’s a positive offensive player. With some more coaching and more confidence there’s no reason why he can’t be a Josh Hart like player.

  • The Cavs giveth and the Cavs taketh. After the last Mitchell three-pointer, which gave the Cavs the lead, the Cavs didn’t have a field goal for another three minutes.
  • And this is the Cavs offense in a nutshell: When they’re on, they’re on and when they’re not, they’re not. Expert analysis, I know.
  • Part of that is because of the offensive flow, or whatever they rely on offensively. When one of their creators are creating and some of their shooters are knocking down shots, the offensive looks good. When either, or both, stall, there’s not really a backbone to fall back upon to help generate offense. The offense slows down, and quality looks are hard to come by. That’s where the offensive breakdown is, and why the offense is so inconsistent.
  • Just to show how good the Celtics offense is: They hung 40 in the first quarter despite being doubled up by the Cavs in three-point makes (6 to 3).
  • The Celtics supplemented their lackluster three-point shooting by not turning the ball over and getting to the free-throw line (to the tune of 11 free throw attempts).
  • A Marcus Morris Sr three-pointer to cut the lead to six heading into the second quarter seemed big at the time but turned out to be inconsequential.
  • Spanning the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second quarter, the Cavs went 4-for-18 shooting. Somehow, the Celtics only pushed their lead from 6 to 13 in that time span.
  • The Celtics started the second quarter on a 7-0 run while the Cavs did not score a point the first four minutes of the second quarter.
  • A Garland-Caris LeVert-Sam Merrill-Morris-Tristan Thompson was a real lineup used against the East’s best team. The options are limited by injuries but that’s where we’re at.
  • Watching the quality of kick outs the Celtics can generate versus the quality of looks the Cavs generate is noticeable. Some of that is due to the talent level but otherwise that’s also what you get with a system, player, and ball movement.
  • Speaking of offense: Where’s the roll game that Allen ate off of? While Mobley has been the starting center, that part of the game has seemingly gone away and put even more on the perimeter game to take off. The roll man opportunities have dried up.
  • But when those opportunities do come about Mobley has to remain aggressive. His touch shot wasn’t falling, was being deterred from restricted area attempts and was even passing out of paint looks for perimeter shots. That can't happen.
  • This is something both Mobley and Garland have struggled with at times: You can’t let results dictate the process. If it’s a good shot, shoot it. Don’t let past performance change your current decision making. Be confident in your game and think you’re going to make the next shot instead of letting the last shot’s result muddy your mind.
  • Speaking of muddy, the second quarter was full of it. After a high octane first quarter, the teams combined for 34 total points – the same total the Cavs scored in the first quarter.
  • The Cavs shot 26%, had one free-throw attempt and went just 2-for-10 from three. Not good, not good.
  • It felt like the second quarter was a missed opportunity. Boston is not going to have many sub-20-point quarters and the Cavs couldn’t take advantage of it. If they have an average quarter offensively, they likely make it a one possession game heading into half. Instead, it was an 8-point lead that felt a lot bigger with how Boston was playing offensively.
  • At half, 11 points on 5-for-15 shooting by Mobley and Garland, and 7 points on 3-for-9 shooting by the bench. You may be able to stomach one, but you can’t stomach both. That type of production has been inconsistent all playoffs long, and Mitchell has not been able to receive the type of help he needs consistently.
  • The sleeping giant was woke to start the third quarter. Jrue Holiday and Derrick White alternated three-point makes which thwarted the Cavs offensive pressure tried to put on the Celtics. Mitchell came out aggressive (4 shots in 6 possessions) and while the Cavs scored 11 points in three minutes, it might have been too little too late.
  • The Celtics just keep coming and the third is really where they extended their lead. They were able to push it all the way to 16.
  • The Celtics are just a good offensive team. Case in point: The Cavs had several good defensive possessions from 1 through 20 but the last 4 seconds the Celtics made a play. Whether it was Tatum or Brown making a shot, or one of their shooters converting an open look. Nothing is more demoralizing than playing your best defense only for a shot to be converted in the remaining seconds on the shot clock.
  • They also keep the pressure on off misses. There is no time to hang your head, and it’s imperative to remain organized and communicating. With the type of shooting and drive threats they always have on the floor, it makes for tough transition defense.
  • The Celtics lead kept swinging between the three to five possession range and the Cavs could never really get it to the two to three possession range where they could potentially make a move. It felt like the Celtics had the Cavs at an arm’s distance all night.
  • The third quarter was White’s. He went 4-for-6 on three-pointers including a few step backs. How the guy who shot in the low 30’s three years ago with the Spurs is now one of the league’s best shooters is credit to him.
  • Behind White’s hot shooting, the Celtics went 7-for-15 from three-point range in the third quarter.
  • Can Okoro get White’s shooting/skills coach for the summer? Asking for a friend..
  • Mitchell was not to be outdone. He had 16 third quarter points and was doing his best star performance to keep his team in the game. Problem was, he was not only dragging one leg but dragging the whole team.
  • Through three quarters, Mitchell was 12-24 from the field with 33 points while the rest of the team was 18-47 (38%) for 44 points.
  • More demoralizing than any Celtics spot-up three-point attempt is the lack of consistent players stepping up to help Mitchell. That seems like something that will be in the back of his mind when deciding his next contract.

  • The fourth quarter… was played?
  • The lead ballooned to 23 points at one point and by that time, the white flag was raised. The Cavs scored two points in the quarter’s first three minutes while the Celtics scored 10 to put to bed any chance of a comeback.
  • Mobley started to score in the fourth quarter. The game was out of hand at that point but the decisiveness and aggressiveness he showed was not the same as he exhibited earlier in the game. The tools are there, and the consistency offensively needs to follow.
  • In his four games starting at center, Mobley has not attempted a three-pointer. In the four games he started at power forward he attempted 11.
  • Here’s my beef with Garland for this game. If you’re not going to score, fine. Find other ways to contribute. Being paid what he’s being paid and being tasked with being the point guard doesn’t give you permission to have an off night. If you’re not scoring, there are other ways to impact the game. Create for others. Rebound. Create hustle plays. Defend. Be a leader. It doesn’t matter which one, pick one.
  • Garland has 19 assists over his last four games. That’s fine but not good enough for what the Cavs need. Make others better and don’t let your offensive game drag your performance down as well as your teams.
  • Bickerstaff tried Merrill and it didn’t work. To his credit, he stuck to Merrill in the second half and didn’t go to Georges Niang until the game was over. Merrill was 0-for-5 (0-4 3P) on the night and was a -14. Just wasn’t his night.
  • Moving forward, the Cavs need to push the pace. Generate easy, efficient offense. Without Porzingis, the Celtics don’t have a true shot blocker. And if Allen is out, the Cavs are more spaced out. Use both of those things to your advantage and push the ball for easier driving lanes. The Cavs had 17 fast break points and that must be more.
  • The bench only could muster 15 points, and that’s with it playing four to five garbage time minutes. The Celtics got better bench contributions from Payton Pritchard and Luke Kornet. Those two make a combined $6.5M this year. Niang makes $8.8M.
  • If you want the full LeVert experience look no further to when he missed two straight free-throws only to grab the live rebound off the second and convert it with a funky left-handed layup.
  • The Cavs played 10 games on the evening. Four of those are Niang, Thompson, Merrill, and Morris Sr. Those wouldn’t be in a Boston playoff rotation.
  • The Cavs got the message about launching three’s (42 attempts) but only converted 26.2%.
  • Of the Cavs 42 three-point attempts only one was from the corner. That seems hard to do.
  • Meanwhile, the Celtics shot 39.1% which is only slightly above their season average. They were the best team in the league so even a down night for them may be a great night for others but goes to show the shooting gap between these two teams, and there’s still room for them to shoot better.
  • Similarly, Tatum only had 19 points on 19 shot attempts. Safe to say that won’t be a consistent theme.
  • Cavs only managed 5 turnovers. Hooray?
  • Only two 5-man lineups with at least a minute played had a positive plus-minus.
  • Up next: Thursday in Boston at 7PM (ET)

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Episode 3:15: Cavs Survive and Advance