Dribbles: Again, Cavaliers Prove to be More Than Most Expected
Random dribbles following the Cavaliers' 98-97 road loss to Philadelphia on Tuesday:
1. It's starting to feel like I'm writing the same column over and over again. But when I look at this Cavs' roster, I don't know how they do it.
2. Nothing against Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Collin Sexton, Jordan Clarkson and the rest, but this roster wasn't exactly built to win. There are no superstars. I don't even know if there are All-Stars. Granted, the Cavs (4-6) have lost more than they've won. I get that. Still, they're taking the floor with pride and playing a determined brand of basketball not many expected.
3. All of this despite not knowing what they'll get from Darius Garland or Cedi Osman. That's two of their starters. Garland is a rookie who has now appeared in twice as many NBA games (10) as he did in college (five). So he can be excused for still learning. I'm not quite yet sure what to think about Osman. (More on that in a minute, though.)
4. Right now, let's just focus on all the things coach John Beilein's bunch is doing right. For starters, they went into Philadelphia and faced off with a much bigger team that features All-Star center Joel Embiid and 6-foot-9 point guard Ben Simmons. But guess who scored more points in the paint?
5. You guessed it (I think). It was the Cavs, who finished with a 58-56 scoring advantage near the basket. How does that happen? Sheer willpower, that's how.
6. As you can read in my game recap, this came down to one last shot. Love got a good look. "I thought it was going in," Clarkson told reporters. I thought it was going in, too. Blame the ball, because Love likely did everything that a shooting coach would instruct him to do. He appeared dejected nonetheless.
7. Love on the miss: "I'm still in disbelief. I thought it was good. Everyone on the team thought it was good. That's why I just threw my hands on top of my head. ... Couldn't ask for a better shot."
8. Embiid scored underneath for the game's final basket. It came with 13 seconds left. Plenty of time remained for Beilein to draw up a play. He knew Embiid would be in there, protecting the paint. So Beilein gave the Cavs several options off the inbounds. Yes, one of those options was the shot taken by Love. "It was one of the many looks that I would take at that time," Beilein said.
9. Love still finished with 20 points. Same goes for Clarkson, a spark off the bench in every sense of the definition. Sexton scored 18 and continues to show signs of improvement defensively. Thompson made two threes (yes, two) on his way to 17 points and 12 rebounds. He refused to back down from the larger Embiid, and overall, it may have been Thompson's most admirable night of the season.
10. I have been a full-time NBA writer since 2010, the year before Thompson entered the league. I have seen a lot of Cavs basketball. I have never seen Thompson play better. He is doing everything he's always done -- battling, defending, hustling, deflating the opponent with offensive rebounds. Now he has added an actual shooting touch.
11. Mostly, Thompson's approach seems to be rubbing off and is a reason the Cavs are playing better than projected. "People don't expect much from us," he said. "We just have to keep showing everyone that when you play against us, you're in for a dogfight."
12. OK, now for Osman. I'm not here to be critical. Like I said, I'm still not quite sure where he's headed. This is his third season. It's more like his second because he spent his rookie year backing up LeBron James.
13. Osman has worked on his defense and has made some small strides. Offensively, I'm not so sure. He finished this game with five points in 32 minutes. The Cavs are understandably willing to be patient. There are nights Osman is quietly solid. But there are still too many where you don't even know he's out there. For now, that's OK.
14. That aside, there is no denying the Cavs have been a team the fan base can feel good about getting behind. General manager Koby Altman and Beilein have assembled a roster of players who enjoy playing together, as well as a positive culture. They are clearly in this together.
15. Sure, it can sometimes be tough with rookie and younger player mistakes. But veterans such as Thompson, Love, Clarkson, Matthew Dellavedova and Larry Nance Jr. have been pro's pros. The younger players have been willing listeners. It's created an enjoyable product.
16. For more details and quotes on the game, check out my other story: Cavs sport look of a winner, but last shot doesn't drop in loss.
17. Next up: The Cavs return home to face Jimmy Butler and Miami on Thursday. The Browns also host Pittsburgh that night, so the Cavs have an early tip at 6 p.m. It might be tough to draw eyeballs when the Browns are getting ready to kick off against their top rival down the road. But these Cavs have been a team worth watching and worthy of fans' attention.