Dribbles: On Night of Trade, Cavaliers Show Progress Once Again

Sam Amico

CLEVELAND -- Random dribbles from the Cavaliers' thriller of a 121-118 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday:

1. Three in a row. It may not sound like a big deal, and in the big picture, it's really not. But when you're the Cavs, three straight wins is something to cheer about.

2. John Beilein's bunch has been through a lot already this season. On top of being a team with a younger and smaller backcourt, the Cavs (9-21) have experienced their share of off-the-court storylines.

3. The latest came Monday, about five minutes prior to tipoff. That's when it was learned Jordan Clarkson had been traded to the Utah Jazz. Clarkson had to be pulled out of pregame warmups after the deal was reported (first by ESPN).

4. This is the business aspect of the NBA that first-timers such as Beilein, Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr. had yet to live. It's one thing to hear and read about it. It's quite another for it to actually happen.

5. Porter Jr. said he was particularly impacted by Clarkson's sudden absence. "It's different for sure," he said. "It was kind of devastating. But you have a game in two minutes. It's not a good feeling."

6. Porter added: "Jordan helped me a lot and helped make the game easier for me."

7. Beilein couldn't yet talk about the agreed deal that will bring back point guard Dante Exum and two second-round picks. (Full story.) But the coach made it clear he was pleased with how the Cavs hung on minus Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., out with a sore left knee.

8. Clarkson scored 33 in the Cavs' previous game, a win over Memphis. It was a season-high. He was averaging 14.6 points on the season, earning the nickname "The Wolf" from Beilein. Now, the Cavs will be leaning on the likes of Porter to help replace that production.

9. Porter did in fact lead the bench in scoring, going for 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting. He also snagged a career-high nine rebounds. Overall, he played with lots of energy and stayed aggressive on defense. 

10. Back to the Clarkson trade. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Cavs "are planning to start uprooting veterans on the roster to gather more draft picks and young assets."

11. In other words, as suspected, that's not likely the last deal the Cavs will make before the Feb. 6 deadline. But for now, all they need to worry about is developing the young guys and continuing to build a strong environment. Trading some of the veterans will assist in that department. Winning some games won't hurt, either.

12. Beilein on the streak: "It shows that we are improving. I don't know if we win this game a month ago."

13. For the record, this was the Cavs' first three-game winning streak since 2017-18. That was LeBron James' last season.

14. Collin Sexton (25 points), Garland (21), Kevin Love (20) and Cedi Osman (18) all gave strong showings. Also, Tristan Thompson was very good defensively. As usual, Thompson did a nice job of helping on the opposing guards. He grabbed 10 boards and Love had eight.

15. You could tell Sexton and Garland had a little extra bounce in facing highly touted second-year Hawks guard Trae Young, who scored 30. That matched his average for December. Between those three, Porter and Hawks youngsters John Collins, De'Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish, this had the feel of an intense NCAA tournament game.

16. Garland gave a good answer when asked if was ready to take on a bigger role in the game's critical moments. "I'm 19," he said. "I'm going to take it one day at a time."

17. The Cavs broke open a 94-all tie at the end of the third quarter by going on a 17-0 run in the fourth. Fourteen of those points were scored by Garland and Porter.

18. Still, the win wasn't official until Young's 3-point heave hit off the front of the rim at the final buzzer. "Down the stretch it was a little scary for us," Love said. "We're thankful that last one missed."

19. The Hawks (6-25) have lost eight straight. Coach Lloyd Pierce is a former member of Cleveland's front office and offered the Cavs some praise before the game. You can read my story on that right here.

20. Pierce also choked up and got tears in his eyes after bringing up Fred McLeod, the late FOX Sports Ohio/Cavs play-by-play man.

21. For more on the game, check out the SI.com recap here. 

22. Next up: The Cavs get a couple days off for Christmas, then go back on the road for three toughies. The first comes Friday at Boston (4 p.m., EST). Thanks as always for reading and taking the time to talk hoops. Have a safe and joyous holiday.