Early on Saturday, we learned that some coaches around the NBA are jealous they don’t get to coach Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Evan Mobley. Later that night, he showed exactly why that’s the case with a dominant fourth quarter to lead the Cavs to a 19-point comeback win over the Boston Celtics.
After trailing by 19 late in the third quarter, the Cavs gave themselves a chance by getting the deficit down to 12 entering the fourth. From there, they turned things over to Mobley, who took control on both ends of the floor. He scored 12 points in the frame to nearly match the Celtics by himself, and came up with a number of huge defensive plays, including a stunning chase-down block on Jayson Tatum.
For the night, he finished with 19 points, nine rebounds and three blocks on 8 of 13 from the field, and the Cavaliers were plus-16 with him on the floor in a game they won by two. It was just the latest show of brilliance from a player who has established himself as the best in the class so far. Let’s take a closer look at how Mobley put the Cavaliers on his back.
We have to focus first on Mobley’s defense, because it’s been his calling card through the first few weeks of his rookie campaign, and it was where he made the best play of the night. In fact, his incredible play to chase down Tatum just might wind up as one of the best blocks of the season.
In the middle of the fourth, Mobley tried to go to the basket but came up short with his floater after a spin move. Instead of sulking, Mobley immediately began sprinting back down to the other end and finally caught up to Tatum right at the rim. He extended and sent the shot away. The refs initially called it goaltending on the floor, but the replay showed Mobley somehow got the ball before Tatum released it. Truly a remarkable play.
But Mobley wasn’t just making highlight reel plays. He kept showing up time and again to make life difficult for the Celtics with smart rotations and active hands. There was a block on Dennis Schroder early in the quarter, a deflected Marcus Smart pass that turned into a turnover and a perfect contest to force an airball from Tatum on the switch.
Just look how he sits down in a stance to prevent Tatum from getting into the lane, then has the quickness and length to get out for a perfect contest.
On the final possession of the game, with the Cavs clinging to a two-point lead, he also helped keep the ball out of Tatum’s hands, which ultimately led to a bad shot from Schroder. Mobley’s effort on the defensive end was a big factor in the Celtics’ brutal fourth, during which they scored just 15 points and turned the ball over eight times.
It was also another example of why he’s drawn comparisons to Kevin Garnett and Anthony Davis after only 14 games. Few rookies have ever come into the league this polished on the defensive end, and Mobley has the potential to be the best player in the league on that side of the ball some day.
While most of the discussion about Mobley rightfully centers on his defense, he’s not a stiff on the other end. He’s averaging 15.6 points on 52.7 percent shooting and flashed some really terrific stuff in the fourth quarter as he put up 12 points on 5 of 7 from the field.
He started off with this smooth turnaround fadeaway over Grant Williams that left a stunned Celtics broadcast team with nothing to say but “wow.”
Later on he put more of his outside skills on display with a hesitation pull-up jumper right in Robert Williams III’s face.
And then, with less than two minutes to play and the Cavs trailing by two, he showed what happens if you try to guard him with a wing. He went down in the post and bullied Tatum en route to a clutch turnaround hook shot to tie the score.
Three completely different moves, three positive results. Mobley might never be a 25-point-per-game guy, in part because he’s so wired to play the game the right way and get his teammates involved. But it’s clear already that he’s going to be able to score when necessary.
If you aren’t watching Mobley on a regular basis, the praise might seem hyperbolic, but it’s not. He is the real deal. Thanks in large part to his impact on both ends of the floor, the Cavs are now 9-5, which is their best start since 2017, and he has them just a game out of the best record in the Eastern Conference.