CLEVELAND, Ohio — April 15, 2022, is a date the Cleveland Cavaliers vividly remember.
Six months after Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks ended Cleveland’s dream season at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the Cavs were able to get a bit of payback with a 114-102 triumph Monday night.
The Cavs stewed over that play-in tournament loss all summer. They used it as fuel, believing there was more they should have accomplished. Maybe even would have accomplished if not for a pile of late-season injuries and Young’s play-in explosion that turned him into the newest Cleveland villain. It’s why the Cavs came into this season with an “unfinished business” mentality.
The links between the two Eastern Conference rivals don’t end there either. Both supercharged their backcourts with trajectory-altering offseason trades, which heightened expectations and sparked debates about whose is better. Both entered Monday’s matchup with 10 wins, jockeying for position at the top of the standings.
This year’s first round went to Cleveland — and its starry backcourt.
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Donovan Mitchell, acquired from Utah about two months after the Hawks added Dejounte Murray, poured in a game-high 29 points on 11 of 22 from the field and 4 of 8 from 3-point range. He also had nine assists and four rebounds in 39 minutes.
“We were very precise with our movements. We knew exactly where we were going, how we were gonna attack what they were doing,” Mitchell said. “Tonight was one of our, I would say our best night executing — not even just in the fourth quarter, but throughout the whole game. This is all just a learning process on what’s going to continue to work. There have been nights where it hasn’t worked, and I think that’s what helped us get to this point.”
The Cavs’ Darius Garland added 26 points on 9 of 14 shooting and 2 of 4 from beyond the arc to go with nine helpers against eight turnovers in 38 minutes.
Cleveland’s duo significantly outplayed Atlanta’s throughout the night. Garland and Mitchell combined for 55 points and 18 assists.
Young (25 points and 10 assists) and Murray (11 and 6 on just 4-of-18 shooting) tallied 35 points and 16 assists together.
Cedi Osman, brilliant off the bench for the second night in a row, scored a season-high 23 points, going 8 of 10 from the field. The Cavs’ shortened bench, even without Caris LeVert and Kevin Love gutting through a hairline fracture of his right thumb, finished with a 33-29 edge.
“Confidence just growing,” Garland said of Osman’s two-game stretch. “He’s getting that time and he’s just taking it to his advantage. He’s getting the most out of his minutes. He’s super efficient on the floor. He’s competing on both ends. It’s something that we need, as a spark plug. We’re happy that he’s in a good space right now and we just need him to stay there and just bring that energy every night for us.”
Osman was one of the players who referred to Monday as a “special game” multiple times during the lead-up. He wasn’t the only one publicly honest about how much the game meant, with a few guys admitting a strong desire for vengeance — as much as possible in a November regular-season game anyway. Others discussed it privately.
Monday mattered. Cleveland’s early-game focus, energy, urgency and intensity spoke volumes. The Cavs led by 12 at the end of the first quarter. They were up by five at halftime. Despite a sloppy, turnover-filled third quarter, they were still ahead by three going into the fourth.
This time, the Cavs finished.
They outscored Atlanta 29-20 in the decisive fourth, using a late 11-2 surge to push the lead to a game-high 15 points and get their first bit of revenge.
“The resiliency and the will to just figure it out, I think we did that for the majority of the night,” Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “The most important thing is the last five minutes. I think there was a big step forward there, and hope it breeds that confidence and an understanding of how to do it. We’re going to be tested again. We’ve got to continue to pass those tests.”
LeVert did not play because of an ankle injury suffered one night earlier against Miami. LeVert, who told cleveland.com he was “straight” and unconcerned about the injury in the locker room prior to Monday’s matchup, was not on crutches or in a walking boot. He was wearing his usual basketball sneakers and showing no signs of a visible limp.
“We’ll just see how it goes and how he recovers,” Bickerstaff said of LeVert. “Those are all good signs.”
The Cavs will wrap up their four-game homestand with a matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
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