The Cleveland Cavaliers couldn’t find their magic in Orlando on Wednesday, at least not their offense.
After an excellent start which saw the Cavaliers score on five of their first six possessions, the offense struggled to create any momentum against the Orlando Magic. The second quarter proved the Achilles heel for the Cavaliers in their debut.
While the offense started relatively strong, the Cavaliers trailed by 20 halfway through the second quarter. Almost every shot looked like a guaranteed misfire; the turnovers began to mount as well.
Eventually, the Cavaliers only trailed by 5 in the second half, when the score was 59-54. The offense couldn’t generate enough pressure on Orlando’s defense to secure a comeback victory.
“There were a few key moments when we had wide-open shots and missed them, and they had wide-open shots and made them,” John Beilein told the media after the team’s 94-85 loss. “We get it to five and then all of the sudden it’s 12. Then we get it back to five or six and all of the sudden it’s 12 or 14.”
While a victory against Orlando wasn’t significant, the game itself could present insight into how this Cavaliers team will operate in the near future, mostly by their coaching decisions and style of play.
The Cavaliers blueprints on offense
The Cavaliers offense clearly struggled. The team shot 37.1% from the field and only 9-34 from three-point range. While the team couldn’t find their rhythm, it was compelling to see the formations coach Beilein designed.
Before the game, the Cavaliers revealed their starting lineup with both Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. Garland led the team with only five assists, a team statistic which must steadily improve. Sexton ultimately led the team with 15 shots taken from the field, but the offense appeared divided evenly among starters and role players combined.
Besides Tristan Thompson, everyone on the team had looks from three-point range. It appeared Beilein wanted to space the floor as much as possible, hoping to create scenarios where Orlando’s frontcourt had to cover the perimeter consistently. While they did, they didn’t seem too worried Cleveland would make their open looks.
Win or lose, the Cavaliers decided to get Garland and Sexton as much playing time as possible in the backcourt. While they’re likely utilizing a “position-less backcourt,” Beilein said it should be clear to tell the difference between point guard and shooting guard going forward.
“I mean, there was a lot of good to see. There were also times that they are still trying to get that playing together. I think as that gets better and Collin realizes we probably need him more often off the ball- Darius is really an elite passer- he’ll get more and more used to it, because they are both going to be really good players,” Beilein told Chris Fedor of cleveland.com.
Judging off allocated minutes and postgame media sessions, Beilein wants to get the rookies and sophomores involved as much as he can. The veterans Dellavedova and Jordan Clarkson played almost identical minutes to Porter Jr., who made his season debut in a scoreless effort.
Defensive effort trumps Cavaliers offense
In a game of debuts for several Cavaliers, the primary focus was on Beilein’s integration of the team’s rebuilding core with their key veteran players. The defense was an important aspect to watch in their season debut against Orlando.
Last season, the Cavaliers ranked among the league’s worst in nearly every statistical category on defense. After one game, the Cavaliers ranked fifth in defensive efficiency. It will only go downhill from there, but it’s important not to overlook their defense against the Magic.
“Defensive concepts were there some of the time and I think against a team that’s played together and know what they want out of their coach and their system, more times than not they’re going to have the advantage, so it will be a lot that shows on film,” Kevin Love told the media after the loss.
While not an impact on offense, Love grabbed 18 rebounds and served an integral role on defense. He was one of three Cavaliers who grabbed more than 10 rebounds. Thompson and Larry Nance Jr. both had double digit rebounding numbers.
In total, the Cavaliers outrebounded the Magic 54-46 and held Orlando’s top options: Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon, to only 30 points combined. The competition will surely improve over the season, but the defensive effort is one to applaud.
Despite the season opener resulting in a loss for Cleveland, there are some positive takeaways.
The Cavaliers decided to implement Sexton and Garland as early on as they could. It’s important to establish consistency with the organization’s future stars. The duo can only improve their offense and defense in a Beilein-led system that rewards it’s most athletic playmakers.
In addition, Clarkson needs to pass more and shoot less. In 17 minutes, he shot 2-12 from the field and didn’t record an assist. In Cleveland’s new system, Clarkson looks like an outlier who doesn’t fit their future plans or current schematics. While it’s only one poor performance, his decision-making impacted the Cavaliers, albeit in a negative fashion.
The rest of the squad looked fine, especially on defense. Once the offense finds their rhythm and consistency, the Cavaliers could win some ballgames.
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