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2021-22 Season Recap: October-November

Young Cavaliers Began Surprising Squads Right Out of the Gate
by Joe Gabriele
Cavs.com Beat Writer

2021-22 Season Recap:
October-November

Young Cavaliers Began Surprising Squads Right Out of the Gate


The Wine & Gold wrapped up their exceedingly successful season in mid-April – dropping Play-In Games to the Nets and Hawks, who are also now watching the NBA Playoffs from home. No one expected the young Cavaliers to reach the heights they did this season, even if the campaign’s closing days were marred by injuries.

In truth, the injury bug bit the Cavaliers all season long, and for most of it, J.B. Bickerstaff’s pugnacious young guns bit right back – showing a resiliency and cohesiveness that was forged over the previous summer – and precipitated by the three straight frustrating seasons of hard knocks preceding it.

So-called experts predicted the Cavs would top out at around 27 victories in the increasingly rigorous Eastern Conference – taking a baby-step, at best. Instead, the Cavaliers won 44 games, remained near the top of the Playoff picture for the entire season, sent two players to the All-Star Game and were the only team in the Eastern Conference team with a winning record whose top three scorers were all under the age of 23.

We’ll be looking forward to next season all summer long and begin focusing on the Lottery and upcoming NBA Draft beginning as soon as next week. But this week, here’s Cavs.com’s three-part recap of the Wine & Gold’s wild and wacky 2021-22 campaign.

From the start of the season, five-time All-Star Kevin Love looked rejuvenated coming off the bench for the Wine & Gold.
Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE Getty Images


Let 'Em Know -- As November came to a close, the Cavaliers were already opening eyes around the Association, but were just a single game above .500 – at 11-10, same as the Hawks, Knicks, Sixers and Celtics. Cleveland went streaking for their near-symmetrical mark too – starting off the season with two straight losses, followed by a three-game win streak. The Cavs also turned in a four-game run and won back-to-back contests twice.

Over that 21-games stretch, in a sign of positive things to come, Cleveland – despite owning one of the league’s toughest early-season schedules – went 6-4 on the road (3-3 vs. the West out west) and 7-5 against the Eastern Conference, overall. Wrapping up a West Coast trip at 3-2 galvanized the club and was huge for its confidence.

Cleveland’s biggest lost during that span was a 15-point home loss to the Warriors in a game in which it led by 13 points after three quarters. The Cavs biggest win was a 20-point victory over Detroit, but they also notched very impressive double-digit wins over the Mavericks, Nuggets, Knicks and Clippers – all on the road.

Heading into the season, the three biggest headlines were: the Wine & Gold’s new-look jumbo lineup – including Lauri Markkanen, who Cleveland acquired in a three-team deal for Larry Nance Jr. the previous summer and would join top pick, Evan Mobley – the result of that first headline now bringing five-time All-Star and 14th-year man Kevin Love off the bench, and finally the arrival of 11-year veteran Ricky Rubio, also acquired in an offseason trade, and how he’d co-exist in “Sexland.”

All three storylines unfolded quickly, albeit not exactly according to plan.


Large, In Charge -- It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when it became apparent that Cleveland’s unorthodox jumbo lineup – including Lauri Markkanen, center Jarrett Allen and rookie Evan Mobley – was going to jolt the league, but it might have been the first points scored against the Nuggets during the team’s first road win of the season, with Markkanen absolutely crushing home a right-handed dunk over reigning MVP Nikola Jokic to open the game.

It was all good from there, as Cleveland presented nightly matchup problems for opponents. Markkanen, the squad’s seven-foot small forward, got off to a solid start, netting double-figures in every game but one – and came back from a nine-game absence with COVID on a tear, topping the 20-point mark in three of November’s final four games.

Jarrett Allen, who inked a long-term extension with Cleveland before the year, got off to about as good a start as one can – drilling all 11 field goal attempts and finishing with 25 points in his season debut against Memphis. The 5th-year man from Texas, who went 10-of-11 from the floor five nights later, would proceed to double-up 11 times over the first two months of the season, averaging 19.9 and 14.2 boards over that stretch, shooting 68 percent from the floor and, more importantly, leading Cleveland to an 8-3 mark in those outings.

And then there was unflappable rookie Evan Mobley, who immediately showed his otherworldly skills as a 20-year-old – netting double-figure scoring in all but two of his first 17 games, including a 26-point outburst at Madison Square Garden, going 11-for-15 from the floor in a lopsided win over the Knicks. During his eye-opening rollout, Mobley tallied four double-doubles and registered eight games of multiple blocks, including three outings with four swats apiece.


Looking For a New Love -- Heading into the 2021-22 season, Kevin Love was the last remaining holdover to the Cavaliers 2016 NBA Championship, was in the Top 10 in several of the franchise’s Top 10 lists statistically and was the only member of the squad (at the time) who’d ever suited up for an All-Star Game.

Love also was limited to just a combined 103 games (and 60 combined wins) over the previous two seasons.

But Love looked reinvigorated right from the start of Camp, due in part to the reunion with his former Timberwolves teammate Ricky Rubio. Both former starters would come off the bench together, and the combination was a hit from the start.

For his part, Love was excellent on the floor, but also provided the leadership that evaded him in previous seasons. As a willing contributor off the bench, Coach Bickerstaff could point to his youngsters at any point and explain that if a future Hall of Famer can make a sacrifice, so can everyone.

Love was just getting warmed up over the course of those first two months. He grabbed double-digit boards off the bench in the second game of the season, and four more times after that, and went off for 22 points in Cleveland’s 18-point decision in Denver back on October 25.

Like Markkanen, Love was sidelined with COVID – missing an eight-game stretch in early November. As it turned out, those were the only games he missed all season, eventually leading the squad with 74 games played.

”Uncle Kev” didn’t post monster numbers during that opening stretch – averaging 10.3 points and 7.6 boards – but suddenly the game looked like “fun” again to the veteran forward, and that joy would prove to be contagious.


Changing of the Guard -- This was supposed to be the season that Darius Garland and Collin Sexton and the Cavaliers all figured out how to best utilize two of the league’s most explosive guards in the same backcourt.

Going into his fourth year, Sexton had essentially led the team in scoring since his rookie season, and he was expecting big things in 2021-22. After a so-so start in Memphis, the Young Bull erupted for 33 points against Charlotte two nights later.

He went for 26 points in a road win over the Clippers, but couldn’t quite find his rhythm in the early-going. And on November 7 in New York, his campaign came to an abrupt end when he tore his meniscus in his left knee against the Knicks – just 11 games into the season.

It would be inaccurate to say that Ricky Rubio picked up the slack when Sexton went down. The former Timberwolves star hit the ground running in Cleveland – netting double-doubles in his first two games and going off for 23 points in the Cavs first win of the season on October 23 against Atlanta.

In the game against the Knicks in which Sexton went down, Rubio exploded for 37 points off the bench, going 8-of-9 from three-point range, drilling seven triples after intermission and leading both teams with 10 assists. Rubio would post three more 20-point games before the month of November was through.

Despite missing two of the season’s first three games with a sprained ankle, Garland began heating up as the young season wore on – and it turned out he never really cooled off.

Garland doubled-up in the fourth game of the near and netted four point-assist double-double over the first month. The 3rd-year man didn’t post his first 20-point game of the season until November 5, but he topped that plateau in style – notching his 20th and 21st points of the game on two free throws with five seconds remaining to seal a one-point victory in Toronto.

Garland would proceed to top the 20-point mark in six more games before the month wrapped up. But the young guard was just getting warmed up for bigger things to come.


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