CLEVELAND, Ohio – Scribbles in my notebook while watching the Cavs open the season with a 108-105 loss at Toronto:
1. The eye injury to Darius Garland showed the immediate value of Donovan Mitchell. Garland played only 13 minutes. After that, Mitchell ran the team. As coach JB Bickerstaff said in his postgame press conference: “(Mitchell) has carried teams on his back of him before. It’s not new … he’s an elite basketball player. “
2. I was thinking about what the Cavs would have looked like without Mitchell after Garland went out. They would have had Collin Sexton in the backcourt with Caris LeVert. This is not as a knock on Sexton. Now with Utah as part of the Mitchell deal, Sexton scored 20 points in 21 minutes coming off the bench for the Jazz in their 123-102 victory over Denver Wednesday. That’s his best role of him, instant offense.
3. Mitchell is a complete guard. Former Cavs coach Mike Fratello compared Mitchell to former Detroit star Joe Dumars when we were talking about the deal. I see some of Dumars in Mitchell. He is physically strong, hard to knock off-balance when driving to the basket. He can handle the ball from the point, or play the classic shooting guard.
4. Mitchell had 31 points (12 of 21 shooting) with nine assists and only three turnovers in 35 minutes. He was 2 of 8 on 3-pointers. Mitchell is a better long-range shooter than that, but he’s not the second-coming of Mark Price from beyond the arc. He is a scorer, driving to the rim and shooting mid-range jumpers. But as Bickerstaff also said, “He’s capable of making every kind of pass.”
5. If Garland is out for a while, Mitchell is even more crucial. Someone has to run the team. Veteran backup Raul Neto played only six scoreless minutes and didn’t look very comfortable at the point. We’ll see how that develops, because he will be needed if Garland is missing games.
6. The Cavs also signed Ricky Rubio, but the point guard is still recovering from ACL surgery. He won’t be back in the near future. So right now, it’s Mitchell’s show in the backcourt.
7. During the TV broadcast, Austin Carr kept dwelling on how Toronto plays aggressive physical defense and the officials allowed it to happen. My thought: That was hard, clean, pressure defense. This was not the Detroit Piston Bad Boys of the 1980s. Cleveland needs to deal with it.
8. After the game, Bickerstaff was unhappy because the Cavs didn’t handle it well. He mentioned how Toronto’s goal is to force turnovers and grab offensive rebounds. The Cavs were out-rebounded, 41-38. Toronto had 18 second-chance points, the Cavs had four. They were beat on the boards, despite a clear height advantage.
9. All-Star center Jarrett Allen was aggressive. He had 13 points, 10 rebounds and a pair of blocked shots. It was an odd night for Evan Mobley. He had only six rebounds in 36 minutes. He scored 14 points on 5 of 9 shooting. He wasn’t bad, but he seemed to have problems with the flow of the game. They need Mobley to assert himself on the boards and the defensive end. The plus / minus stat sometimes is deceiving. That said, the Cavs were out-scored by 14 points when Mobley was on the court.
10. Before he was hurt, Garland was having a rough night. He was 2 of 8 shooting with five turnovers compared to only three assists in 13 minutes. Blending Garland and Mitchell together will take time.
11. With Garland out, Caris Levert become more important. He started at small forward, but probably will move into the backcourt with Mitchell. He had 10 points (2 of 7 shooting, both field goals were 3-pointers). He played a nice floor game with seven assists, five rebounds and one turnover in 35 minutes and helped on defense.
12. Isaac Okoro’s line: 12 minutes, four fouls, zero rebounds, zero assists, zero steals. He took one shot and missed it. Very discouraging opener from a guy who will be needed. Good news was Kevin Love, who had eight points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes. Love looks ready to continue the excellent play he demonstrated last season coming off the bench.
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