Saturday wasn’t necessarily a fun night in Northeast Ohio. The fifth seeded New York Knicks stole game one in Cleveland against the fourth seeded Cleveland Cavaliers 101-97. Outside of shooting guard Donovan Mitchell who scored 38 points and eight assists, no one on the Cavaliers played particularly well. Same thing goes for the New York Knicks who didn’t play well but played their game and were able to make crucial plays down the stretch. Game two is on Tuesday and the Cleveland Cavaliers have to answer these three questions in order to avoid a 2-0 deficit.
Will the Cleveland Cavaliers bench step up?
One of the main reasons why the Cavaliers lost on Saturday was due to the lack of production from their bench. Cleveland’s bench has been a problem for most of the season and it was a problem on Saturday night. From the lack of scoring to questionable rotations, it just wasn’t a great performance all around. During the playoffs, rotations are usually cut in half with teams going from 8-9 players to 6-7.
The entire bench unit needs to step up for Cleveland. I imagine that head coach JB Bickerstaff will make adjustments. Small forward Caris Levert has to play better and he cannot have a poor shooting night like he had on Saturday night. Levert shot 1/7 from the field and didn’t make a single three pointer in his three attempts.
Small forward Cedi Osman was the lone bright spot for the Cavs bench as he was the only player that contributed from a scoring perspective, and the only player that finished with a positive plus/minus. Cleveland will likely have to play both Cedi Osman and Caris Levert, and probably give small forward Lamar Stevens minutes as well. Shooting guard Danny Green, who the Cavaliers signed after the trade deadline will likely have to get minutes.
Will point guard Darius Garland abandon his conservative approach in game one and be aggressive in game two?
No one can deny Darius Garland is a talented player. However, the main issue that some Cavaliers fans have with Garland is his lack of aggressiveness sometimes. Garland had multiple opportunities on Saturday night when it came to scoring opportunities. He didn’t take three pointers when the opportunity was presented, and also lacked confidence in his scoring ability. Garland also tends to turn the ball over at the worst time.
Garland has to abandon this passive approach and play to the level he is capable of. Garland is a great playmaker and a good scorer, but he has to show it for the Cavaliers to have a chance to win game two. Garland must take the open threes, limit the turnovers and play to his standard.
Will the entire Cleveland Cavaliers team follow shooting guard Donovan Mitchell’s lead and rise to the occasion?
The Cleveland Cavaliers are a talented team. For a team that was in the play-in tournament last year to the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference is a remarkable turnaround. Donovan Mitchell is one of the main reasons for why this team is where they are now, and the team itself made leaps and strides this season. With that being said, Saturday night the team didn’t play to the level that they were capable of.
We all know what Mitchell is capable of, but can the rest of the Cavaliers players follow suit? For Cleveland to play as poorly as they did and lose by only four is surprising. For the Cavs to have a chance at winning this series, everyone outside of Mitchell has to play better. Everyone needs to step up, from point guard Darius Garland, power forward Evan Mobley, center Jarrett Allen and small forward Isaac Okoro.
To be blunt, they can’t be scared. The New York Knicks are a good team but still very beatable. However, they played the other night with no nerves, unlike the Cavaliers. The Cavs must remove whatever fear that they have and don’t let the moment overwhelm them. In the postseason, we find out who’s built for the moments and who isn’t built for the moments. Will the Cavaliers rise to the occasion or let fall under pressure? We shall find out on Tuesday night.