2021-22 Season Recap: March-April

2021-22 Season Recap: March-April

Injuries Took Their Toll on Young Cavaliers Down the Stretch

by Joe Gabriele (@CavsJoeG)
5/6/22 | Cavs.com

On March 19, one night after dropping Denver in an overtime thriller, the Wine & Gold rallied from a dozen points down to beat the Pistons at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

It wasn’t necessarily a pretty win, but an important one, nonetheless. That victory was Cleveland’s 41st of the 2021-22 season, equaling the team’s combined total from the previous two years. For a team that was predicted to fall short of 30 wins, they’d racked up 40 by mid-March.

But the injury bug continued to ravage J.B. Bickerstaff’s young squad – even consuming the squad’s most recent acquisition, Caris LeVert, for nine games after the All-Star Break – and the Cavaliers were never able to rediscover their groove over the season’s final month-and-a-half.

There’s no way to sugarcoat the frustrating stretch run. The shorthanded Cavaliers dropped four of their first five after the All-Star Break and went 9-15 over the final stretch before dropping their final two Play-In Games to the Nets and Hawks.

If you’d told Cavs fans in September that their up-and-coming squad would’ve been competing in the Play-In Tournament, they’d have rejoiced. And they’d have been right to celebrate a sensational season. But it still hurt when things wrapped up on that Friday night against Atlanta.

As Cavs.com closes out its season recap – with eyes now fixed towards the Lottery, Draft, Summer League and Free Agency – here’s an overview of how the Wine & Gold wrapped up their captivating campaign …

The Cavaliers got excellent leadership from both its youngsters and older veterans alike during their outstanding 2021-22 season.
Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE Getty Images

Aches and Pains -- Other than a seven-game mid-December run with Lamar Stevens in the starting lineup, the Cavaliers’ most successful starting five (at 11-5) consisted of Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, Lauri Markkanen, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen. Cleveland last used that lineup on March 6.

Every team goes through injuries, but after losing Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio for the season before the Break, the Cavs were simply unable to weather the cavalcade of ailments over the stretch run – especially to its young frontcourt.

The first major blow was losing All-Star center Jarrett Allen in early March. The 5th-year man was having a career year when he went out with a quad injury during the first half of a March 6 contest against Toronto. It turned out he’d fractured the middle finger on his left hand, and he’d eventually go on to miss the rest of the regular season, valiantly rejoining the club in its final Play-In game on April 15.

Evan Mobley didn’t miss nearly as much time in the final stretch, but the five games he was out with a left ankle sprain couldn’t have come at a worst time, rejoining the team for the final two games of the regular season.

Compounding it all, the team lost Dean Wade – who’d started 28 games during a solid sophomore season – in mid-March to a right knee injury that required season-ending surgery.

The backcourt was not immune to the injury bug over that stretch. Rajon Rondo missed 11 games with a sprained right ankle and the newly-acquired Caris LeVert was sidelined just four games into his Cavaliers tenure.

The Swing of Things -- Veteran swingman Caris LeVert seemed to be on the Cavaliers radar all season long, and on February 7 – the day after his Pacers faced off against his current club – the deal was done, with Cleveland sending Ricky Rubio and a protected first rounder in 2022 to the Pacers in exchange for the Columbus native.

The Cavs were sitting just a single game out of the East’s top spot when they made the trade, and the 28-year-old seemed to be a perfect fit at the wing, averaging 18.7 points, 4.4 assists and 3.8 rebounds in 39 starts with the Pacers.

In his second game, and first start with Cleveland, LeVert was outstanding – finishing with 22 points in a Friday night thriller back in Indianapolis – and he was looking forward to big things after the Break.

But the former Wolverine, drafted No. 20 overall back in 2016, suffered a right foot sprain in practice after All-Star Weekend and was sidelined until mid-March.

LeVert never quite found his rhythm with Cleveland when he returned and although he went off for 32 points in a loss to Dallas, averaged just 13.7 points per over those final 15 games.

The Cavaliers prided themselves on last their work over the summer last year, and how critical it was towards their success. One has to think an offseason with his new mates – plus a full Training Camp – will have LeVert feeling more like himself next year.

Double-Trouble -- It would be wrong to mention to team’s litany of injuries without also mentioning what a one-man wrecking crew Darius Garland had become after missing some time after the Break with a sore lower back.

After an epic weekend, playing in the midseason classic in front of his home fans in Cleveland, the 22-year-old’s star only continued to rise after the Break. During the month of March, Garland posted 11 double-doubles – the most point-assist double-doubles over a month in the NBA this season and tops in Cavaliers history.

Garland, who handed out 171 dimes in total in the month of March, averaged 25.3 points, 10.7 assists, 3.5 boards and 1.56 steals in 16 outings – becoming the first Cavalier since his All-Star teammate, LeBron James, did so in February 2018.

The 3rd-year man from Vandy had two streaks of four double-doubles during the month and during the first one – handed out a career-best 19 assists to go with 26 points against the Sixers and, four nights later, erupting for a career-high 41 points and 13 helpers in a comeback win over the Pacers.

April Showers -- With injuries threatening to derail their dream season, the Cavaliers tried to claw to reach the East’s 6th-seed and avoid the Play-In Tournament, but it began shaping up that they’d have to face off against the Nets – who entered the season as title contenders – and/or the Hawks – who made a wild run to the Eastern Conference Finals one year ago - in the extended season.

Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the heavyweight Nets in Brooklyn turned out to be Cleveland’s first date.

A slow start doomed the Wine & Gold in this one – falling behind by 20 points after one quarter before mounting a furious comeback that go them to within five in the fourth. Darius Garland scored Cleveland’s first nine points of the fourth quarter and finished with 16 of his team-high 34 points in the period, but it was not quite enough against the star-studded Nets.

Kyrie canned his first 12 shots from the floor and he and Durant combined for 59 points and 23 assists as Brooklyn took the 115-108 win at Barclays Center.

The Cavaliers still had one more chance to reach the Playoffs, however, and could do so in what proved to be an electric atmosphere at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse – welcoming Trae Young and the Hawks to town.

Behind a raucous home crowd, the Wine & Gold jumped out to a two-touchdown lead and were keeping Young completely in check, holding the sharpshooting All-Star to six points at intermission.

But that was about as good as it would get – save for a jaw-dropping fourth-quarter blocked shot by Evan Mobley – for the young Cavaliers, who dropped the 107-101 decision as the dream season came to an abrupt end.

The Wine & Gold didn’t reach the Playoffs this year, but did manage to keep their First Round pick in the upcoming Draft in the process. And they will reload with one of the most talented young rosters in the Eastern Conference all under the age of 24.

It’s a good time to be a Cleveland Cavalier.