Dribbles: Again, Cavs Mostly Helpless Against Contending Celtics

Sam Amico

Random dribbles following the Cavaliers' 129-117 loss to the host Boston Celtics on Friday.

1. This is just the way it's going to go for the Cavs vs. really good teams on the road. Basically, it looked as if the Celtics were just toying with them.

2. Every time the Cavs looked like they might make a game of it ... the Celtics turned it on. The Cavs were just sort of helpless when that happened.

3. It wasn't as much an effort issue as it was a deficit in talent. The Celtics are challenging for the Eastern Conference title. The Cavs are challenging for the top pick in the lottery.

4. That said, there were a couple of times where the Cavs didn't look real interested in defending.

5. Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 34 points and hit five 3-pointers. The man did whatever he wanted. Jayson Tatum scored 30, marking the first time the two Celtics wings have hit 30 in the same game. 

6. That's not necessarily an indictment of the Cavs (9-22), because Brown and Tatum are off to great starts. They are very good against everyone. But let's face it, the Cavs have no one who can come close to defending either player.

7. On the bright side, Kevin Love was very good with 30 points on 10-of-16 shooting. Collin Sexton scored 21 and Kevin Porter Jr. added 16. 

8. Porter is beginning to look like a real steal with the final pick of the first round. Those are the types of things the Cavs care about this season. As coach John Beilein has said, they are looking to win little wars within the wars. Wins and losses are practically beside the point.

9. The Cavs also had to like what they saw from Dante Exum, making his debut after the Jordan Clarkson trade with Utah. Exum did a nice job in 15 minutes off the bench, hitting all three of his shots for nine points. He also compiled a couple of steals.

10. Exum is 6-foot-6 and all arms and legs. He can handle the ball and set up his teammates. He wasn't getting many minutes in Utah, averaging 2.2 points in just 11 appearances. This was easily his best performance of the season. Maybe he is someone who can grow with the team.

11. I called Exum "a bust" in a column immediately following the trade. He was far from that on this night. As I also wrote, the Cavs will give him every chance to launch a productive NBA career and prove the skeptics wrong.

12. Meanwhile, Clarkson looked the same as always in his debut with the Jazz on Thursday. He came out firing and I even saw some Jazz fans on Twitter complaining about his shot selection. But that's just Clarkson. His strength is volume scoring. It definitely has its value.

13. Clarkson finished with nine points on 4-of-12 shooting as the Jazz beat Portland. Those dozen attempts came in just 21 minutes. "I felt real comfortable,” he told reporters. "(Utah coach Quin Snyder) told me to just play my game. ... I’m just happy for the opportunity to play and compete.”

14. Cavs rookie Darius Garland had one of his worst games as a pro Friday. He finished with two points on 1-of-7 from the floor. This can be when rookies really start to struggle -- at about the 30-game mark on the road. Garland has already played about five times as many games as he did in college.

15. For rookies, the NBA is like 82 straight college all-star games. Every night, you're facing someone who is among the top 450 basketball players in the world. When you're a starter like Garland, it's more like facing someone who is among the top 30. There are no Monmouths or Coastal Carolinas on the schedule. That takes some adjusting.

16. Tristan Thompson had a quiet 12 points and seven rebounds. Cedi Osman scored 10. Larry Nance Jr. returned from missing a game with a sore knee and scored two. 

17. Nance averaged 11.0 points on 57 percent shooting in November (13 games). He is at just 4.4 points and 36 percent shooting in December (11 games).

18. Enes Kanter added an underrated 14 points for the Celtics (22-7), winners of five straight. Kemba Walker had 13.

19. Next up: The Cavs hit the road again, with their lone visit of the season to Minnesota. That comes Saturday night, the second day of a back-to-back. 

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