CLEVELAND, OH – Evan Mobley won’t let that happen again.
Playing against a short-handed opponent for the second night in a row, the Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t waste that opportunity by defeating the Milwaukee Bucks, 114-102. The win snaps Cleveland’s two-game losing streak—and Mobley’s hallmarks of victory.
About 24 hours after their most embarrassing loss of the season to the Golden State Warriors — Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff warned his team not to respect the game and ignore an opponent who lacked sharpshooter Stephen Curry and five other players — the Cavs took Saturday’s game more seriously.
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No emotional disappointment this time. The flames emerged from Cleveland’s sophomore phenomenon.
With the focus, determination and aggressiveness that the Cleveland club has repeatedly tried to pull from him, the 21-year-old Mobley looked every once in a while the version of the player Bickerstaff said could one day dominate the league, the coaches said. They asked to emulate the Milwaukee Antetokounmpo star.
The shift may have started earlier than expected.
Mobley scored a career-high 38 points on 19-of-27 high efficiency from the field to go with nine rebounds and three assists in a magical 38 minutes.
It was his ninth consecutive game of scoring in double figures. He is just the fourth player in franchise history aged 21 or younger to score 38 or more points in a game, joining LeBron James, Colin Sexton and Kyrie Irving. Mobley’s 19 field goals ties James for the most goals by a Cavs player age 21 or younger. He is also just the fourth player in the NBA since 1979, when the three-point line was adopted, to score at least 38 points without a single three-pointer or free throw. NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon was the last to do so in 1997. Alex English and George Gervin also accomplished the impressive feat.
Teammates don’t call Mobley a unicorn for nothing.
“It was just one of those days,” Mobley explained modestly. “I definitely always have that confidence in myself to go out and do these kinds of things. I just have to go out and do them.”
After the best half of his career, scoring 18 points and helping the Cavs build a three-point advantage at the break, Mobley raised the bar even more in the second half with a 20-point breakout, including 14 in the fourth quarter. He scored 12 of the Cavs’ first 15 points to open the fourth, as his career night helped Cleveland fend off the rowdy Bucks, who weren’t suffering from antetokonmo (knee soreness) or substitute Khris Middleton.
“That’s exactly what I want to see from the 4,” said All-Star guard Darius Garland, referring to Mobley’s jersey number. “Being aggressive, finds his pocket and does what he does best. I would like to see her literally every night. He was so much needed.”
There were flashes of brilliance from Mobley, exciting moments that caused members of the organization to call him “Fourth Quarter Evan” or “The One”.
On Saturday night, he brought it all together. He lived up to those titles.
“I think that’s what he can do,” Bickerstaff explained. “Sometimes it’s hard for big guys to just get what they deserve. It’s hard for big guys who are not selfish by nature to get what they deserve. Evan is a basketball player. He plays the game the right way. He doesn’t force things because people say he should shoot more or score.” More. He’s an authentic basketball player in that sense. He was aggressive. He was assertive. He was attack-minded.”
Garland added 21 points and 10 assists. Carris LeVert, who started in place of leading scorer Donovan Mitchell for the third straight game due to a nagging hip injury, started with 13 points and seven assists. Sidi Othman rewarded him with 13 from the bench. Jarrett Allen finished with 12 points and six rebounds.
The Cavs shot 55.8% from the field and 31.8% from 3-point range.
Milwaukee was led by Guru Holiday, who scored 28 points to go along with 10 assists. Sixth player Bobby Portez returned to the starting spot, tallying 23 points and 11 rebounds.
After trailing by three points at the end of the first quarter, Cleveland opened game two with a score of 17-2, building a 12-point lead and maintaining control for most of the last three periods. They twice briefly gave up the lead early in the fourth quarter but responded to every Milwaukee push. Cleveland led 23 of the 24 minutes of the second half.
“There was a higher target that we needed to play with and focus on tonight,” Bickerstaff said. “To see our guys jump from where they were last night to tonight, I’m so proud of these guys and how they’ve developed tonight as a team.”
Hours before the tip-off, Bickerstaff was back on the scene and said he wasn’t done with Friday’s hard slide. He needed to see how Saturday went first.
He can get over it now. The Cavs seem to have learned their lesson.
“We know we didn’t play our best last night,” Garland said. “I don’t even want to talk about last night because that was in the past, but we went out and dealt with business tonight. That’s what he asked us to do. We knew that from literally this morning and going into the directions we had today, we knew we had to go get one.” Tonight. Glad we went out and just fought at a high level, played the way we normally play – or try to play – and came away with success.”
Versatile forward Dean Wade played his first game in about seven weeks due to shoulder and ankle injuries. He scored 10 minutes, and failed to score or attempt a shot.
The Cavaliers honored franchise legend Anderson Vargao, now officially retired and a full-time member of the organization as a player development advisor and global ambassador. A touching video brought Varigao some tears, and showed thoughts from his former teammates, coaches and chairman Dan Gilbert. Surrounded by some of the team’s greatest players and various members of his family, Varejao delivered a heartfelt speech, sharing stories about his career and acknowledging the many people who helped him in his NBA career.
The Brazilian native was known for his constant hustle, floppy hairstyle, and charismatic personality.
“A man who worked hard,” Vargao said when asked how he wanted people to remember him. “A man who came from nothing and made the best basketball in the world. Someone who gave everything.”
The Cavs will open a three-game road trip against the New York Knicks on Tuesday night. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m
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