J.B. Bickerstaff says he needs more from his 2nd unit: ‘Our bench has to give us a spark’

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Brian Westerholt-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ first playoff appearance since 2018 isn’t off to a good start, as J.B. Bickerstaff and his players lost to the New York Knicks in Game 1 of their first-round series on Saturday.

New York did a pretty good job of defending the Cavs throughout the game, holding them to under 100 points and leading by as many as 12 in the first half. Cleveland saw Donovan Mitchell pour in 38 points, but there wasn’t enough help from his teammates, particularly the bench players.

After the contest, Bickerstaff spoke about needing more from his reserves.

“Obviously, our bench has to give us a spark,” the 44-year-old coach said. “We’ve got to find a way to manufacture some buckets. How do we create for one another? How does our bench support our starting cast?

“We will go back and take a look at it, but at some point in time, you’ve got to find a way to just put the ball in the basket. I thought that unit kind of struggled there. I thought Cedi [Osman] was really good. He gave us a really good burst.”

A look at the bench production proves Bickerstaff’s point. The unit totaled just 14 points, with nine of them coming from Osman. In comparison, New York’s reserves combined for 37 points. Josh Hart, who had 17, even outscored Cleveland’s bench himself.

Fortunately, there is still enough time for Cleveland to go back to the drawing board and bounce back. However, as a consequence of losing Game 1 as the higher seed, the Cavs lose home-court advantage for now.

There were plenty of things that went wrong for the team on Saturday.

For one, only Mitchell had a big offensive outing. None of his teammates scored more than 17 points, although that can probably be attributed to inexperience. Saturday saw starters Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Isaac Okoro suit up in the playoffs for the first time.

Moreover, Cleveland got outclassed in the rebounding department after hauling in just 38 boards — 13 less than the Knicks. Statistically, the Cavs have been underwhelming on the glass at times this season. New York clearly did its homework and knew where to attack its opponent.

Cleveland won’t play again until Tuesday, so Bickerstaff and the rest of the coaching staff have a couple of days to address the woes.

The team will certainly have its hands full, as the Knicks have had the Cavs’ number in the 2022-23 campaign. The defeat on Saturday marked Cleveland’s fourth straight loss to New York (playoffs and regular season). Time will tell if the Cavs can end the streak in Game 2.

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Orel is a freelance writer who is passionate about the NBA. He has followed the league since the late '90s and found increased interest in it in 2003 – when an 18-year-old prodigy from Akron, Ohio took the league by storm.