The 2023-24 Cleveland Cavaliers season is officially underway! Here’s a look back at the season opener and the standout Cleveland players.
With Jarrett Allen out, the Cavs went with a smaller starting lineup. Going from one to five Cleveland started Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Isaac Okoro, Max Strus and Evan Mobley.
The first half
The Cavaliers looked good in the first half. The selflessness immediately stands out, with the ball movement and scoring on display. The high rate of passing that was foreshadowed in the preseason led to each of the five starting Cavaliers scoring within the first four minutes of the game. Between moving the defense back and forth, handoffs, and early shooting Cleveland’s offense remained utterly unpredictable. Every member of the starting lineup was also hustling on every single play, no doubt making Cleveland fans proud.
The defense, while not looking as polished, was also an early highlight. While the Nets did show moments of that quick passing that Cleveland uses, it seemed forced by Cleveland’s defense rather than being used as a tool by the offense. Frenetic movement instead of controlled chaos.
While the passing was phenomenal, the scoring impressive and the defense mostly reliable, there are vulnerabilities making themselves apparent. Not all the new players seem to be gelling as quickly as others, as players like Georges Niang and Damian Jones weren’t as solid on the defensive end. Darius Garland is also the recipient of the league’s first technical foul for flopping (a call that JB Bickerstaff argued well after the buzzer rang for halftime).
The Cavs came out the gate hot, getting two steals on their first two defensive sequences. They also attacked the basket at a high rate. Aside from this, though, the offense seemed to slow down a bit as the game progressed. The defense, too, lost a bit of its effectiveness. Due to turning the ball over and fouling the Cavaliers eventually lost the hold they had on the lead almost all game.
They fought back and with a forced shot clock violation, a blocked three-pointer by Strus and following free throws from a foul in transition and a Mitchell steal and dunk, the Cavs found themselves in a tie ball game. Mitchell ended up falling onto Mikal Bridges giving Bridges two free throws (which he made), leaving Cleveland down by two. After a timeout, Mitchell found himself open after a quick push-off and easily drained a three to put them ahead. Two forced bad shots later, and the Cavaliers walk away with their first season-opening win on the road in two decades.
There are two obvious standouts in Mitchell and Strus. Mitchell was effective in all aspects finishing with 27 points, five rebounds, six assists, four steals and a block while forcing four turnovers. He also made the big plays in the final moments on both ends of the floor. Strus, while putting up a respectable defensive performance with a few defensive stops around the paint and a steal and block, had more of an offensive explosion. Also finishing with 27 points, 21 of those came off of threes. Strus dropped seven threes, not only the most by a new Cavalier in their first game but the most by a player debuting for a new team ever. Considering they signed him to hit threes, it’s safe to say that’s looking like a good move. He also grabbed 12 boards for his third career double-double.
Okoro is looking better and more confident offensively, while remaining the defensive powerhouse that he’s already been. He finished with 18 points, six rebounds and four assists. Mobley is also looking much more confident offensively, although his confidence comes from his post play. Although he did get blocked a number of times, he used his strength and elbows much more effectively and looked more poised than last season.
Garland, on the other hand, seemed to struggle in this game. He finished with 15 points, six assists and two steals. Decent, but he also finished with six turnovers and couldn’t seem to find his groove.
There were ups and downs but overall this Cavs 2023 season opener is a good preview for a promising season for this Cleveland Cavaliers team.
Featured photo courtesy of NBA.com
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