Shorthanded Cavaliers turn shorthanded Raptors into mammals 144-99
BY STONE LEXINGTON
CAVALIERS BEAT WRITER
(CLEVELAND, OH) - J.B. Bickerstaff received a memorable present on Christmas Day, as the Cleveland Cavaliers organization announced that it had signed the head coach to a multi-year extension. With the way the Cavs have started this season, it isn’t difficult to say that the extension was well-deserved.
“It’s important,” Bickerstaff said about receiving the extension. “It’s meaningful to know that you’re with an organization and with a group of people who believe in you and believe in what we’re building and what we’re working towards. When you have that support, it just gives you more confidence to go out and do the job that you see fit.”
Bickerstaff’s tutelage of the youthful Cavaliers continued on Sunday evening when they faced the Toronto Raptors. Both teams had several players in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, but the Cavs overcame the adversity and dominated their way to a 144-99 victory in Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
The Cavs (20-13) were outstanding offensively in the first half, jumping out to a 72-55 halftime lead. Cleveland led 55-49 after Raptors forward D.J. Wilson sank a hook shot with 5:56 remaining in the second quarter, but Cleveland exploded soon after and closed the first half with a 17-6 run. The Cavs shot 53 percent from the field in the first half and made 10 of their 26 three-point attempts. The offensive onslaught only kept coming in the second half.
Cleveland opened the third quarter with a 20-3 run, capped by a Dean Wade fadeaway jumper in the lane. Wade’s bucket gave Cleveland a 92-58 lead with 7:55 remaining in the third quarter, as the Cavs had broken the game wide open. Cleveland led by as many as 47 points in the second half and cruised the rest of the way.
Kevin Love, who has been an outstanding veteran presence for the Cavs this season, led Cleveland with 22 points and eight rebounds. Darius Garland contributed 22 points, four rebounds and eight assists, while Lauri Markkanen totaled 20 points and seven rebounds. Three other Cavaliers reached double figures in scoring, including Wade (17 points), Denzel Valentine (17 points, nine rebounds) and Ricky Rubio (16 points, six assists).
With the all-around team effort, the Cavs won their fifth straight home game and moved to 11-3 in their last 14 games overall. What makes those wins even more impressive is that all 11 have come by 10-plus points, the team’s longest streak of consecutive wins by 10-plus points since 2008.
The Cavs had several players out against the Raptors due to health and safety protocols, including Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley, Cedi Osman, Lamar Stevens, Dylan Windler and Ed Davis. Isaac Okoro also missed the game and should be back soon after also being in health and safety protocols.
The Raptors (14-16) have plenty of players in health and safety protocols as well, including Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Malachi Flynn, Justin Champagnie, Precious Achiuwa, Khem Birch and Isaac Bonga. Second-year forward Yuta Watanabe led Toronto with 26 points and 13 rebounds against Cleveland.
“At times, it can be challenging when you’re missing so many key pieces, but still you have to have trust in your system on both sides of the ball that it can work,” Bickerstaff said. “We can’t be in a position where we’re trying to do something completely different for two games because we’re missing guys.”
The success the Cavaliers have had this season has largely come from the defensive mindset Bickerstaff has instilled in the team. The Cavs entered Sunday allowing the second-fewest points per game in the league (101.4), and they’ve also thrived despite missing one of their best players in Colin Sexton, who is out for the season with a torn meniscus. Those circumstances also played in to Bickerstaff receiving the extension.
“You look at the best teams and the best organizations in this league, and there’s consistency there,” Bickerstaff said. “There’s consistency in the front office, the coaching staff, the roster, and I think that’s how you build. It’s difficult to build when things are ever-changing. I think we’re in a position where if you look at our roster, we’ve got guys locked in for a long period of time. Now you look at this opportunity with the coaching staff, and we’re locked in for a long period of time.”
Bickerstaff’s new deal runs through the 2026-27 season, and it’s clear that Cavs general manager Koby Altman has plenty of confidence in him to take the team where it wants to go in the future. The Cavs have already faced one of the NBA’s toughest schedules this season, as 25 of their 33 games have been against teams that made the playoffs or play-in tournament last season.
“Obviously, when you get a job, you want to keep it,” Bickerstaff chortled regarding if he ever imagined being in the position to receive the extension. “I think that’s something that as coaches, you go out every day to do the right thing for the team and the organization and that’s where you put your focus. Your trust goes into those people who are making the decisions that they recognize that and they give you an opportunity to continue it.
“My relationship with Koby goes a long ways back before we were even here together, so I’ve got a ton of trust in him and belief in him, and I think obviously he feels the same way towards me. Our partnership is what I think is going to make this successful, is how he and I continue to work together, how we grow together, the vision that we have is similar. All these things that happen, I think it’s extremely important that we shine a light on it, is because of those guys in the locker room. None of this happens if they don’t believe, if they don’t buy in, if they don’t commit to what we’re trying to do, none of this happens. I think that’s where the focus should really go. The focus should go on those guys and how they’ve committed to one another and committed to the team.”
The 42-year-old Bickerstaff originally joined the Cavaliers as the team’s associate head coach prior to the 2019-20 season. Before coming to Cleveland, he was the Memphis Grizzlies head coach for the 2018-19 season before being fired by the team after failing to reach the playoffs. Cavs fans and management may be happy that things didn’t work out for Bickerstaff in Memphis.
Bickerstaff and the Cavs will seek their second straight win in New Orleans against the Pelicans on Tuesday.
POSTED 12/26/2021 21:02