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Wednesday, November 02, 2022

Cavaliers Beat Celtics in Overtime For Second Time This Season

The Boston Celtics are the reigning Eastern Conference champions, but early this season the Cleveland Cavaliers have twice beaten the Celtics in overtime thrillers. The Cavaliers won 132-123 in Boston last Friday as Donovan Mitchell and Caris LeVert each scored 41 points, and tonight the Cavaliers won 114-113 in Cleveland. The 6-1 Cavaliers have stacked up six straight victories after losing to the Toronto Raptors in their season opener, while the 4-3 Celtics are trying to get their footing without injured center Robert Williams and with rookie Coach Joe Mazzulla taking the place of the suspended Ime Udoka.

I have a long (and largely justified) record of being skeptical of young players and young teams until they prove their worth in the postseason crucible, but I must say that the Cavaliers are impressive--and not because of Mitchell's flashy dunks or the team's league-leading three point field goal percentage. The Cavaliers are impressive because they rank second in points allowed and because their deep, talented roster plays a very unselfish style of basketball with players repeatedly giving up good shots to get great shots. They must improve their rankings in rebounding (18th) and defensive field goal percentage (11th) to be able to make a deep playoff run, but there are indications that the Cavaliers are willing and able to do what it takes to make progress in both departments. 

The Cavaliers play hard at both ends of the court, and even players who are not known as defenders (hello, Donovan Mitchell) are putting forth effort, which is a sign that the team has a strong internal culture and excellent coaching. 

It is an encouraging sign that the Cavaliers beat a very good team despite shooting just .420 from the field, including .282 from three point range. Casual fans may believe that blistering three point shooting is why the Golden State Warriors have won four championships in the past eight seasons, but informed observers understand that the Warriors have been an elite defensive team during their dynastic run. The Cavaliers not only held the Celtics to .409 field goal shooting (including .268 from three point range) but they contained both of the Celtics' stars without turning anyone else loose; Jaylen Brown scored 30 points on 10-26 field goal shooting, while Jayson Tatum had 26 points on 8-21 field goal shooting. Meanwhile, all five Cavalier starters scored in double figures, led by Darius Garland (29 points, 12 assists) in his first game back after suffering an eye injury in the first game of the season. Mitchell added 25 points and six assists. Garland and Mitchell did not shoot much better than Tatum and Brown, but any team that has two stars who can play Tatum and Brown to a standstill and generate enough offense to win is dangerous.

It is premature to say how good a team is until the season is at least 20-30 games old; that is a large enough sample size to at least make some preliminary assessments. Wins in October and November do not count in May and June--but winning habits formed in October and November can lay the foundation for success in May and June. If the Cavaliers stay healthy and stay focused on team goals then this team could be very dangerous next summer.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:58 PM



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