Mitchell Shines in Celtics-Cavaliers Game 2 Win

Photo of Mitchell shining in the game 2 win Celtics vs Cavaliers.

They had struggled to clinch a playoff victory on the road—until they finally succeeded with Mitchell prowess. They had found it challenging to breach the 100-point threshold—until they managed to do so. The Cleveland Cavaliers seemed destined for an early elimination prior to their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup with the Celtics, especially after their 25-point loss in Game 1 led many to believe their departure was imminent.

Nevertheless, the Cavaliers displayed boldness by staying for Game 2 on Thursday night at TD Garden (as mandated by the NBA, incidentally). And to everyone’s surprise, they completely changed the narrative with a convincing 118-94 victory, evening the series at 1-1. As the series shifts to Cleveland for Game 3 on Saturday and Game 4 on Monday, here are five significant takeaways.

Choosing his opportunities, choosing his halves.

At the halfway mark of Game 2, Cleveland found themselves in a fortunate tie at 54-54. Their sole dependable and dynamic scorer, Donovan Mitchell, had only taken six shots and contributed a mere six points.

Two elements were at play. The Celtics employed diverse defensive tactics against him, which was understandable given his 33-point performance in Game 1. Meanwhile, Mitchell utilized this chance to ensure that some of his teammates got more involved in the offensive plays.

By halftime, Evan Mobley, Isaac Okoro, and sixth man Caris LeVert had collectively racked up 35 points – a significant improvement from their average of 25.4 points over Cleveland’s first eight playoff games. Despite this, Mitchell registered five assists and maintained a plus-11 rating.

However, the time for action was approaching. “When it became crucial to step up, I knew I had to,” reflected Mitchell later. “I understood that at some point, I would have to become more aggressive with my shooting.”

This transition occurred in the third quarter. Mitchell initiated and concluded that 36-point period for the Cavs with 3-pointers, adding 10 points in between. He then contributed seven more points in the fourth quarter before finally taking a break after halftime.

With 29 points, he joined LeBron James as the only Cavaliers to achieve at least five games of 25+ points. Throughout the series so far, his team has performed significantly better with Mitchell on the court, outscoring opponents by 27 points, but has struggled notably when he is on the bench, trailing by 28 points.

Mobley maintained his top form for an entire 48-hour period.

Cleveland’s third-year power forward, celebrated for his defensive prowess and highly regarded for his potential, had recently come under fire for what appeared to be a stagnant offensive display. In his initial 13 playoff appearances over the past two seasons, Mobley had fewer games where he scored 17 points or more (two) than those in which he scored in single digits (three).

Throughout much of this series, spanning over three quarters, Mobley had only accumulated seven points while the Cavs seemed headed for a significant defeat. However, a turning point occurred midway through the fourth quarter on Tuesday: Mobley began scoring with a jump stop, followed by another basket, and then a layup as he maneuvered past Luke Kornet. This momentum carried forward.

By the conclusion of this burst, Mobley had successfully made five consecutive baskets during a 10-0 Cavs run. This not only boosted his rhythm and confidence but also carried over into Thursday’s game. He contributed eight points in an early surge, leveling the score at 19-19, and even managed to sink the fourth 3-pointer of his playoff career before the end of the first quarter.

Mobley played a pivotal role in Cleveland’s tally of 22 points in the paint during the opening 12 minutes and their overall dominance of 60-44 in Game 2. This achievement can be credited to Mobley’s diligent analysis of game footage, building upon his performance from Game 1, and to his Cavs teammates recognizing opportunities to exploit mismatches and feed him the ball.

The Celtics aren’t quite at the level where they’re fitting for a championship ring just yet.

It’s like a reverse Michael Corleone situation. Every time Boston and the rest of the league are ready to believe in them, the Celtics manage to push them away once more. They faltered in Game 2 of the first round against a weakened Miami team. Now, they’ve replicated that pattern against a Cavaliers squad that was previously seen as little more than a minor obstacle, until Thursday.

They were outmatched in rebounding and shooting, both from long range and around the basket. None of the starters were able to convert even half of their shots, and the Celtics’ overall performance lacked the necessary sense of urgency.

The crowd picked up on the lackluster effort. With 4:58 remaining and Boston trailing 111-87, fans began to trickle out of the arena and into the night. One vocal critic shouted, “Hey Tatum, we’ll be here when you’re ready! Wake up!”

Coach Joe Mazzulla observed, “When you lose a game like that, it could be a combination of tactics, effort, or a bit of both at times.” “Unacceptable performance,” remarked Boston’s Jaylen Brown.

LeVert once again feels at ease at the Garden.

Two of Caris LeVert’s most explosive showings have taken place on the parquet floor in Boston. He achieved a career-best 51 points against the Celtics while playing for Brooklyn in March 2020. Then, in October 2022, now with Cleveland, he notched 41 points. His only other instances of scoring 40 or more points have been against different teams, in various arenas.

As he enters his eighth NBA season, LeVert has started 229 games throughout his career in both the regular season and playoffs. However, since his arrival in a February 2022 trade from Indiana, only 53 of those games have been with the Cavs.

Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff has praised LeVert’s willingness to make sacrifices for the team. Although he only scored four points in Game 1, he played a pivotal role in the Game 2 victory. His 21 points in 27 minutes marked the highest scoring output off the bench from either team thus far, achieved without sinking any three-pointers, mainly relying on cuts and creating opportunities.

He possesses a distinctive, elusive style that makes it difficult for defenders to contain him, remarked Bickerstaff. Furthermore, he presents a threat with his ability to deliver late passes that catch defenses off guard.

LeVert himself stated, “We’ve heard over the past few days that Donovan didn’t have any support. So we wanted to step up for him and for our team, and we’ll continue to do so.”

Winning takes precedence.

Before the game commenced, Bickerstaff bestowed a significant compliment upon the Celtics, one so positive that it appeared more suited for a concession speech than an evaluation of a single-game series.

“Observing this team as a whole, it’s evident that winning is the primary focus,” he expressed. “You can see their selflessness in how they play the game. Despite having exceptionally talented players on their roster, they all understand their roles. Upon reviewing the footage and analyzing their performance, you don’t observe individuals deviating from their identity in a manner that would negatively impact others. From an external perspective, it appears that it’s not about ‘me’ at all.”

By the conclusion of the evening, the coach was extending nearly identical praise to the Cavaliers themselves.

“I believe our players executed the game plan flawlessly,” remarked Bickerstaff. “When we defend as we did and the shots begin to fall, our style of play remains consistent, allowing us to find success regardless of the venue.”

The next destination: Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, where Cavs fans are witnessing a competitive series rather than a one-sided affair. Game 3 is slated for Saturday (8:30 ET, ABC).

“Nothing else holds significance,” Bickerstaff emphasized. “There are no ulterior motives. We have playoff games on the horizon that we must win, and the players are prepared to make sacrifices and do whatever it takes to secure victory because they don’t want to disappoint one another.”


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