CLEVELAND, Ohio – Moments After The Cleveland Cavaliers’ 100-98 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves The text came Monday night from a dizzying member of the front office, one of the many executives responsible for stealing Jarrett Allen from the Brooklyn Nets last month.
Our vision just came alive.
Allen made his first start instead of Andre Drummond, who missed his second game that season with a sore lower back. After two straight losses and a tough stretch that dampened an exciting first month and with people talking about lack of confidence, Drummond’s injury presented an opportunity. It gave the Cavs a necessary – and encouraging – look to the future.
Jarrett Allen. Collin Sexton. Darius Garland.
Three of the most important building blocks of Cleveland eventually started together, showing what the team should look forward to and why this triumvirate is so optimistic internally.
“You understand what’s possible,” said Cavs head coach JB Bickerstaff when asked about the impact of those three on the win. “What I love is that you see them work together, that you play them together, and that they don’t have to play in isolation on separate islands. You can play together. There are positive signs here of what can come. “
Allen achieved a season high of 23 points with a 7-of-9 out of the field, 18 rebounds and five blocks in an impressive 35 minutes. He is the first cavalier with at least 20 points, 15 boards and five blocks and has been shooting better than 75% since the beginning of the 3-point era in 1980.
“I’m still new,” said Allen. “I’m still trying to learn all the nuances of defense and attack and play Cavs’ basketball. But I think I have a certain, different feeling when I’m on the pitch. I don’t take anything away from the way Drummond plays, he goes out there and gets my numbers every night, that just goes to show that I need to improve my game but I’m just trying to bring something else and I think it works good for us. “
Sexton, who spoke of not being engaged on Sunday, put in 26 points. Much more aggressive and committed on the offensive, he managed to get his spots in the unclogged paint, drilling midfield jumpers and swimmers, while earning 11 trips to the free throw line.
“We allowed Drummond, he killed, so we just kept feeding him,” Sexton said of the difference between the two matchups with Minnesota. “But when it does, we have to make sure we’re still moving and at the end of the day we can’t stagnate watching him at work – although he’s incredibly tall, sometimes he needs these outlets and has them to ensure that we are still moving around him because all the paint was packed. Feel like tonight, we just kept moving the ball and played well. “
Garland shared with Bickerstaff his displeasure with the team’s performance on the weekend road trip and spent hours with assistant coaches watching movies about his plethora of sales that contributed to the Sunday loss. Bickerstaff saw a determined look from the point guard in his sophomore year.
Unrestrained and confident, with open lanes and a willing pick-and-roll partner, Garland ended with 19 points and 11 templates. He scored six points on 3-of-4 and two assists in the fourth quarter, re-entering at 9:11, helping the Cavs stop the Wolves’ comeback attempt.
“Just keep giving him confidence,” said Bickerstaff. “If you make the ball easier and everyone better and everyone feels a part of it, and if you can make these daggers, your status will grow. I think that’s where Darius goes. He will get there, to the level of those elite guards, if he continues to do what he did tonight. “
As a starter this season, Garland averages 17.7 points to 47.2% of the field and 48.9% of the 3-point area, which corresponds to 5.9 assists and 1.3 steals.
“Darius, he’s a natural,” said Allen. “He’s always on the lookout for the role, he has a good feel for when to pass the ball or when to shoot the swimmer or even throw it on the weak side. I feel like I’ve played with some guards in my story and they taught me how to be a good scooter, how to set certain screens and when to get a good feel for the roll.
“I think the ceiling can go up. I see us go far. We’re already playing together at a high level and haven’t really practiced it yet. That’s always a good sign. “
Allen said the next step is for him and Garland to build the chemistry outside of the court. It can be a symbiotic relationship, one of the deadliest pick-and-roll partnerships, much like what Allen and former Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving once created in Brooklyn. This is what the Cavs imagined when they believed Allen would help unlock part of Garland’s dormant offensive package.
“The defense has their hands full,” said Bickerstaff. “Darius has the ability to pick and roll all shots and Jarrett has the ability to place the ball vertically and catch it in the pocket and make moves and make outlet passes. Nothing is built without experience, right? There is no trust in just words. Trust comes from action. To be able to have these moments, to have the experience to do these actions, that is where trust is built and that is how you get better. The more experience they bring together, the more opportunities they have together. I think it won’t do anything but keep getting better. “
Drummond will likely regain its starting position in the short term. He deserved it – a significant part of Cleveland’s turning point that began when he arrived last February.
But he is in the final year of his contract and will try to capitalize on a monstrous season. Even though the league is moving away from traditional greats, there is still a place for Drummond. He will have a market that is likely to receive more supply than what the organization is willing to give, especially if Allen sees a lucrative deal as a restricted free agent. While any chatter about a Drummond buyout with the Cavs currently in the Eastern Conference playoff mix is nonsense, a trade is an unmistakable possibility before March 25th. Drummond is leaving this season as a free agent – if the Cavs decide to ride her out and do a postseason push.
Still, Drummond’s future is elsewhere. That became clear with the Allen deal. It is a cornerstone of this renovation. The Front Office believes that everyone is a better fit in the long run. The 22-year-old center showed why Monday night.
More of a praise threat than Drummond, Allen’s elite screening makes it easier for Garland and Sexton to offend too. None of them need any follow-up touches or open options. This style organically opens the track for the dynamic tandem to attack the dribbling, and gives them freedom that they don’t always have. All of them also have better rim protection. His engine is always running.
Sometime Monday night, when one of Minnesota’s greats started rolling, Allen reached out his huge hand, forced the guard to keep it, and then Allen blocked the attempt to fire with the other hand. Not many can do that.
None of this is a blow to Drummond. The Cavs are not where they are without him.
“I know we live in the era of the 3-point shot, but at the same time, if you go back and study the numbers, teams that dominate the color at both ends are teams that are most efficient at both ends,” so Bickerstaff said. “Dre gives you the opportunity to do these things. The ability to secure possessions from a defensive standpoint exists in our league that can do better. That helps a lot in your defense. His ability to get and steal distractions. You can go on and on about what he is capable of and what the effects are. Then the ability within the suit to create mismatches, force duplicate teams, and create fouls. We benefit greatly from it. “
Only Drummond does it differently, which doesn’t seem as beneficial for the further growth of the Garland-Sexton backcourt.
Garland, Sexton and Allen were Cleveland’s top players Monday night, collectively scoring 68 of the team’s 100 points in a bounce-back win that included a more detached, modern-looking attack.
Don’t insult any other member of the list – Drummond, Kevin Love, Larry Nance Jr., Dylan Windler, or Taurean Prince. They all have specific roles. But where the Cavs go in the future and whether this rebuilding will be a success will largely depend on the success of the Garland-Sexton-Allen trio. Rookie first round winner Isaac Okoro is also part of this group. Unsurprisingly, he’s further down the development curve.
Monday night was a window into Cleveland’s potential.
“I know it was just a couple for Darius and a lot of other people – like a year, two or three years in the league,” said Allen. “I think if we get more experience playing against higher-level teams, against different defenses and against different offensive sets, we’ll bring it all together and start rolling.”
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