The Cleveland Cavaliers got their first win in four tries this season against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday, beating Toronto 118-93 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. The win snaps the Cavs’ three-game losing streak.
This was an apex Mitchell performance. He was deadly at all three levels, exploding in and out and his movements even if it was just to create a little bit of space to get off a clean look. No one on the Raptors’ roster had a hope of staying in front of him.
Look at this drive. He rejects the screen, gets into the paint ahead of OG Anunoby, slides through Anunoby and a help defender and then explodes off of his left leg to hit a floater flush.
Spida's up to 35 PTS with this TOUGH drive @cavs in front in Q3... Watch now on the NBA App!
➡️ https://t.co/0rrSPxOHD0 pic.twitter.com/Utle0pfE99— NBA (@NBA) February 27, 2023
Mitchell final stat line: 35 points (13-21 shooting, 8-12 from three) to go with 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals in three quarters. When he plays like this, Mitchell is nearly unguardable.
Something to monitor going forward: The size of the Cavs’ rotation.
Against Toronto, J.B. Bickerstaff kept the rotation to lean eight players — the size the Cavs are likely to use in the playoffs. It was the five starters — Mitchell, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen — plus Ricky Rubio, Caris LeVert and Dean Wade off of the bench. No one else played before Bickerstaff inserted Danny Green with 5:46 to go in the fourth quarter. At 4:42, Raul Neto, Robin Lopez and Lamar Stevens came in to play with Green an Dean Wade. That was the signal that the game was officially over.
This might not be an every night thing. Bickerstaff sometimes likes to throw fresh bodies out on the floor when the Cavs don’t have it on a given night. There’s still one back-to-back to play this season too and that might mean Rubio isn’t available for one of those games.
But this feels like the clearest look at how the Cavs’ top-eight will be when the playoffs start. Maybe Cedi Osman — who didn’t play on Sunday — gets minutes again. Maybe Danny Green finds his way in here or Lamar Stevens sees some spot minutes. Maybe foul trouble to one of Jarrett Allen or Evan Mobley leads to some spot Robin Lopez minutes. But an eight-man rotation is a sign that things are getting serious.
The Cavs were significantly better on defense against the Raptors than they had over their last three games. Toronto finished shooting 38.7% from the fielding, including 50% at the rim and 39.7% on two-point attempts.
The biggest improvement for Cleveland may have been its defense off of live rebounds. Per Cleaning The Glass, Toronto had an offensive rating of 92.3 off of live rebounds. For the year, league average is 120.8 with the Raptors 2.5 points better than that.
The Cavs, though, contained that. Against both the Nuggets and Hawks, the Cavs were lit up in those spots. Being better on Sunday changed the game.
Up next: The Cavs next play on Wednesday in Boston against the Celtics. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.