Cleveland, Ohio – I scribble in my notebook while watching the season opener with a 108-105 loss in Toronto:
1. The eye injury to Darius Garland showed the immediate value of Donovan Mitchell. Garland played only 13 minutes. After that, Mitchell managed the team. As coach JB Bickerstaff said in his post-match press conference: “(Mitchell) has carried teams on his back before. He’s nothing new…He’s an outstanding basketball player.”
2. I was thinking about what the Cavs would have looked like without Mitchell after Garland left. They had Colin Sexton in the backcourt with Caris Levert. This is not a blow to Sexton. Now with Utah as part of Mitchell’s deal, Sexton scored 20 points in 21 minutes coming off the bench to the Jazz in their 123-102 win over Denver Wednesday. This is his best role, Instant Attack.
3. Mitchell is a complete bodyguard. Former CAFs coach Mike Fratello compared Mitchell to former Detroit star Joe Domars when we were talking about the deal. I see some Domar in Mitchell. It is physically strong, and difficult to unbalance when driving to the basket. He can handle the ball from the point, or play the classic shot keeper.
4. Mitchell scored 31 points (12 from 21 shots) with nine assists and only three turns in 35 minutes. It was 2 of 8 three-pointers. Mitchell is much better at long-range shooting, but he’s not the second Mark Price to come out of the arc. He’s a scorer, drives to the edge and shoots a mid-range player. But as Bickerstaff also said, “He can do all kinds of passes.”
5. If Garland has been away for a while, Mitchell is more important. Someone has to run the team. Veteran veteran Raul Neto played just six minutes without a goal and didn’t look very comfortable at this point. We’ll see how that develops, because it will be needed if Garland misses the games.
6. The Cavs also signed Ricky Rubio, but Base is still recovering from ACL surgery. Will not return in the near future. So now, it’s Mitchell’s show in the back area.
7. During the telecast, Austin Carr kept talking about how Toronto played aggressive body defense and officials let it happen. My idea: It was a tough, clean, compact defense. This wasn’t the Detroit Piston Bad Boys of the ’80s. Cleveland needs to deal with it.
8. After the game, Bickerstaff was unhappy that the Cleveland team did not handle him well. He mentioned how Toronto’s goal is to force turnovers and grab offensive rebounds. Cleveland team was out the ball in the net, 41-38. Toronto had 18 points in the second chance, and Cleveland had four. They were beaten up on the boards, despite the obvious height advantage.
9. All-star center Garrett Allen was aggressive. He had 13 points, 10 rebounds, and a pair of blocking hits. It was a strange night for Evan Mobley. He only had six rebounds in 36 minutes. Scored 14 points in 5 of 9 shots. It wasn’t bad, but he seemed to have problems running the match. They need Mobley to establish himself on the board and defensive end. Sometimes the plus/minus sign can be tricky. However, the Cleveland team was outdone by 14 points when Mobley was on the field.
10. Before he got injured, Garland was having a rough night. He was 2 of 8 shots with five turnovers compared to only three passes in 13 minutes. Blending Garland and Mitchell together will take some time.
11. With Garland’s exit, Carice Leverett became even more important. He’s starting from the front, but will most likely move into the backcourt with Mitchell. He had 10 points (2 of 7 shots, both goals were 3 shots). He played a good home game with seven assists, five rebounds and one turn in 35 minutes and helped in the defense.
12. Isaac Okoro’s streak: 12 minutes, four fouls, zero rebounds, zero assists, zero steals. He took one shot and missed it. A very frustrating editorial from a man who will be needed. The good news was Kevin Love, who scored eight points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes. Love looks ready to continue the excellent play he showed last season while sitting on the bench.
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