CLEVELAND, Ohio — You can have your pick of most valuable player from the Cavaliers’ dominating 115-92 win over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night.
There’s Darius Garland, who put together a total-game effort scoring 24 points on 9-of-16 shooting and dishing out six assists.
There’s also Evan Mobley, who added another stellar game to his resume for the NBA’s rookie of the year award. He scored 16 points on 8-of-11 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds — but maybe more impressively had five highlight-reel blocks, two on Chicago’s Zach LaVine (team-high 23 points). It was the most blocks by a Cavs rookie in a single game since LeBron James also had five during the 2003-04 season.
But then there’s the bench. Ricky Rubio had a team-high nine assists and scored 11 points. Kevin Love caught fire in the decisive third quarter with three 3-pointers. Total, the Cavs’ bench outscored the Bulls’ bench 39-16.
Cleveland also got double-digit nights from Jarrett Allen (13 points, 12 rebounds) and Lauri Markkanen (14 points) and had a strong defensive effort from Isaac Okoro (nine points), who took on the primary responsibility of guarding LaVine.
“We played well as a team,” Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “That’s who we are. If we’re going to be successful, we’re going to have to do it as a unit. And the guys know that, they’ve bought into it, and they do it together. And it’s every single night. We don’t have the problems of individuals trying to do more. We’ve got a bunch of guys who are bought in and doing it for each other. That’s been consistent for us.”
Defensively, the Cavs transformed 18 Chicago turnovers into 13 points. They also held Chicago to 41.7% shooting from the field and 26.9% from behind the 3-point arc (7-for-26).
No matter what way you slice it, the Cavs (14-12) took advantage of the opportunity in front of them, shaking a two-game losing streak in the process.
The Bulls came to Cleveland with a depleted roster due to COVID-19 protocols, without leading scorer DeMar DeRozan, who is averaging 26.4 points per game. He entered health and safety protocols ahead of Chicago’s Monday win over Denver. Matt Thomas, Javonte Green and Coby White were all also in COVID protocols. Chicago was also missing Alex Caruso and Patrick Williams due to injuries.
Cleveland led for most of this one — Chicago only had the lead for 1:59 the entire night.
Of the Cavs’ 44 made baskets, 28 came on assists. They shot 55% from the field (44-80) and 46.4% from distance (13-of-28).
While a turning point wasn’t needed, the Cavs did build a large lead in the third quarter, going up by as many as 22, boosted by Love’s nine points and Garland’s seven. In the fourth quarter, Cleveland continued to pile on. The margin grew to 26 before garbage time.
For Chicago, Lonzo Ball added 19, Nikola Vucevic 18 and Derrick Jones Jr. 11.
Mobley started the game 4-for-5 from the field, scoring eight of Cleveland’s first nine points. Defensively, the Bulls tried putting guard Ayo Dosunmu on the reigning Eastern Conference rookie of the month early in the game and it backfired.
“Coach has been talking to me, they’ve been putting littles on me throughout the season,” Mobley said. “So I just try to impose my will and dominate the paint early on, and that’s what happened.”
Mobley finished the first quarter with a plus-minus of plus-12 (plus-28 for the game), helping the Cavs build a 29-24 lead. Rubio had eight of his points in the first quarter as well.
The Cavaliers built an 18-12 first-quarter edge, but the Bulls went on a 7-0 run to regain the lead in the only back-and-forth stretch during the contest. With the game tied at 24, the Cavs went on a 12-0 run over the end of the first and start of the second quarter. A 23-19 advantage in the second quarter pushed the Cavs to a 52-43 lead at the half. All eight Cavaliers who saw action in the first 24 minutes made at lest one basket.
Garland’s production was consistent from start to finish. He scored 12 points in the first half and 12 in the second. Between Garland and Rubio, the Cavs assisted on 11 of their 20 made baskets in the first half.
LaVine scored 17 points over the first two quarters, but Cleveland held Chicago to 39.1% shooting in the first half. Mobley had three of his blocked shots in the first 24 minutes.
The Bulls may have been depleted in this contest, but it didn’t make the win any less fun for the Cavs — especially considering at 17-9, Chicago is still second in the Eastern Conference standings.
While Cleveland’s resurgence this year has come quicker than some expected, the Cavs continue to show that they are buying in and having fun doing it. But just as importantly, they continue to look at this season with a business-like approach.
“We’re not looking forward on the schedule,” Bickerstaff said. “We’re not looking at how many games and those things. We want our guys focused on the task at hand. So we’ll work tomorrow, we’ll go to work on Friday, and then we’ll show up again on Saturday, because that’s what the schedule tells us to do.
“That’s the mentality that we’re trying to approach it with is we’ve got a job to do. We’ve got to prepare ourselves, mentally and physically, to do the job.”
More history for Mobley
The Cavs rookie became just the second first-year player in franchise history to score 300 points and block 40 shots in 22 games or fewer, joining John “Hot Rod” Williams. Mobley hit that mark with a block at 10:23 in the second quarter. He got the seven points he needed coming into this game early in the first quarter.
In his first game back from a calf strain, power forward Dean Wade scored nine points on 3-of-4 shooting, making three 3-pointers. He didn’t get into the game until there was about four minutes remaining.
The Cavs will hit the road to take on the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. EDT.
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