For only the twelfth time this season, the Cleveland Cavaliers played with their fully healthy starting unit against the Detroit Pistons. After over a month without starters Evan Mobley and Darius Garland making the Cavs’ starting unit whole, the squad was back together and continued to try to pick up where they left off in a 128-121 win over the Pistons. This game was the first for Garland after suffering a fractured jaw. For Mobley, it was the big man's second appearance after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.
While Garland and Mobley were still on a strict minutes restriction, the returning duo combined for 27 points, three rebounds, seven assists and three steals. Both players came out the gates red hot, clearly restless to return to the court. Garland was moving the ball on a string and firing away from three-point range, giving Cleveland the playmaking edge they've been lacking and an even more lethal shooter for their new offensive attack. Mobley, meanwhile, was all over the court defensively, taking on the assignment of guarding Detroit guard Cade Cunningham regularly, all while finding ways to keep the offense free-flowing with his passing and vision.
Unfortunately, the returning duo eventually ran out of steam, showing that it will take a bit for either to handle the physicality and endurance required to play a full NBA game. During the shootaround before their tilt with the Pistons, Mobley shared with the media that the difference was surprising, considering how hard he and Garland worked to stay in shape after going under the knife. But, in the eyes of head coach J.B. Bickerstaff, it won't be long before either player will have unlimited minutes, allowing the Cavs to finally be at full strength for the first time in a while.
Why Evan Mobley and Darius Garland need time to gel
While Mobley and Garland were strong against the Pistons, it's also clear it'll take time for them to gel within Cleveland's new offensive attack. Bickerstaff shared with ClutchPoints postgame that he was encouraged that Garland could put up six three-point attempts in his limited play, connecting on only two of them. They were a product of a lot of action off the ball, with Garland moving all over, bending the defense with his or his teammate's gravity.
But when Garland starts taking more three-pointers as he's allowed more time on the floor, the Cavs would prefer him to connect on more attempts. Again, it'll take time, but when Garland's shots start falling, it'll give Mobley even more spacing to attack opponents on the interior or use his passing ability to find moving shooting threats, like Garland, to connect on wide-open attempts outside the arc.
Once Mobley and Garland are well enough to play a full game, and more importantly, gelling within Cleveland's offensive system, it'll make everyone's life easier across the Rubicon. While Mobley and Garland were out, the Cavs have already leaned on Donovan Mitchell and Jarrett Allen plenty. Cleveland will continue to do so until the recovering members of their core four are no longer on the mend, and then, neither Mitchell nor Allen will be as overtaxed.
What's going on currently is a good problem in the grand scheme if you're the Cavs. They've remained one of the hottest teams in the NBA and are now adding back two superstars, which will only make them hotter. Again, it'll take time but, it appears Cleveland is setting the stage to run the table in the Eastern Conference.