CLEVELAND, Ohio — So much for that slow start.
A day after Cleveland Cavaliers coach JB Bickerstaff blamed himself for Evan Mobley’s lack of involvement early in the season, Bickerstaff delivered on his promise to adapt. Mobley did the rest, helping lead the Cavaliers to a 103-92 victory over the still-winless youngster Orlando Magic on Wednesday night. It’s Cleveland’s third straight win.
Showing off the rare toolkit that has Cavs coaches and teammates salivating over his potential, Mobley looked just like the 7-foot unicorn capable of one day turning Cleveland into a championship team.
Fierce dunks. Indented smooth pullovers. Feathery floats. Nimble steps. Skillful dribbling. Stylish passes. Hard-hitting defence. Everything was there.
“He was determined to help us win this game,” Bickerstaff said of Mobley. “We know what he is capable of. We believe in him a lot. He had an attacking spirit and he came out to prove a point. I think he did that.
Mobley, last year’s rookie of the year finalist, finished with a season-high 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting to go with three assists, three rebounds, one steal and one block in 34 minutes. It’s Mobley’s first game of the season with double-digit shot attempts. Easily its highest usage percentage.
“He showed why he can be one of the best in the league one day,” Jarrett Allen said of Mobley.
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The Cavs needed every bit of Mobley’s two-way impact with three-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell having a rare night off and the team’s offense not purring like the early games. Mitchell, who became the first player in franchise history to start a season with three straight 30-point games, saw that streak snapped Wednesday night.
Mitchell had just 14 points on cold 5-of-19 shooting. He also added eight assists and four rebounds.
With Mitchell struggling, others escalated throughout. Mobley led a balanced offense with six players in double figures.
All-Star center Allen, Mobley’s frontcourt partner, had his second double-double of the season, totaling 18 points and grabbing 16 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end. With his sixth rebound on Wednesday, Allen surpassed the 3,000 rebound mark. He is only an active NBA player aged 25 or younger to achieve this.
During a streak early in the third quarter, following a curse-filled halftime message from Bickerstaff about not reaching franchise level, Allen turned into a unstoppable force, putting Orlando’s Bol Bol on a poster and punishing other Magic players in the paint. .
“That’s how Jarrett Allen leads,” Bickerstaff said. “He’s not the most vocal guy, but guys follow his actions. That’s what we got used to. He clearly got the message. That’s what we needed from him. And there was no answer for him when he decided to go for it.
Cedi Osman continued his sizzling game off the bench, scoring 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting in 31 minutes. Osman has scored in double figures in all four games this season, his longest streak since November 2021.
Dean Wade, slotted into the starting lineup for an offensively challenged Isaac Okoro, added 12 points, hitting 4 of 7 from beyond the arc.
Caris LeVert added 10 points and six assists.
Orlando was paced by Paolo Banchero who continues to play the role of the No. 1 pick of 2022. Banchero had 29 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Franz Wagner added 22 points.
It didn’t take extra time like the home opener on Sunday night. It didn’t take Mitchell’s superstar-level heroism. The Cavs just needed Mobley to be himself again, the guy whose arrival last June led to billboards and bluster, the guy opposing executives named the star player of the season.
Maybe Wednesday was the start of his escape campaign.
All-Star point guard Darius Garland participated in the team’s shootout Wednesday morning but missed his third straight game with a left eye injury. Garland, who has been kitting out goggles in recent days, wore them during shooting practice alongside teammate Kevin Love.
Bickerstaff said Garland will wear some form of protection when she returns – whenever she does. Sources maintain that Garland is targeting Friday night’s game in Boston, but his playing status will be determined by the swelling around his eye. Wednesday was the second day in a row that Garland was on the court participating in basketball activities. The Cavs are scheduled to practice Thursday.
The Cavs travel to Boston for a game against the defending Eastern Conference champion Celtics on Friday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
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