Mobley’s block helps Cavaliers take 3-2 lead

Published 1:00 am Wednesday, May 1, 2024

CLEVELAND (AP) — Evan Mobley groaned like an old man — and not a 22-year-old — as he pulled himself out of the chair in front of his locker.

“Long game,” Mobley said.

Long guy, and the Cavaliers needed every inch of the 7-footer.

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Filling in at center for the injured Jarrett Allen, Mobley blocked Franz Wagner’s layup in the final seconds and Cleveland survived a scare from Orlando, holding off Paolo Banchero and the Magic 104-103 in Game 5 on Tuesday night to take a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference series.

The Cavs, who were embarrassed by the Magic while losing two games by 61 points in Orlando last week, regrouped inside roaring Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

It took everything they had.

Donovan Mitchell scored 28 points, Darius Garland added 23 and the Cavs got huge lifts from Max Strus and Marcus Morris Sr. to maintain home-court advantage while withstanding 39 points from the sensational Banchero.

“We really needed a game like this in the playoffs,” said Garland, noting how defense has ruled in this series. “I’m glad it was a block.”

After Mitchell missed a jumper with 15.7 seconds left, Wagner drove the left side for a potential game-tying layup but was denied at the rim by Mobley, who smacked the ball off the backboard and was soon mobbed by his teammates.

“It was just surreal,” Mobley said. “It was a big play, and we got it done.”

Wagner regretted challenging Mobley.

“It was not the best decision, and Evan Mobley made a great play,” said Wagner, who scored 14 points after getting 34 in Game 4. “The mistakes add up and hurt us at the end of the game.”

From his vantage point, Orlando coach Jamahl Mosley thought Wagner could score.

“I thought he did a great job getting to the basket, and Mobley made a hell of a play at the rim,” Mosley said.

The Cavs, who spent the season trying put last year’s first-round flameout against New York behind them, can advance with a win in Game 6 on Friday in Orlando.

The Magic need a win to salvage their breakthrough season and force a Game 7 in Cleveland on Sunday. Orlando went 29-12 in the regular season at home and are coming off the decisive wins at Kia Center.

After the block, Mitchell was fouled and made two free throws with 3.2 seconds remaining to make 104-100. There wasn’t enough time for the Magic, who got a 3-pointer in the final second from Banchero.

Playing in just his fifth postseason game, the 21-year-old Banchero looked like a savvy veteran. He scored 16 points in the fourth and finished 14 of 24 from the field (4 of 7 on 3s) and added eight rebounds.

“I just got lost in the game and really wanted to win because I knew how big it would have been,” Banchero said. “I just wanted to be aggressive, and I think I got a little fatigued at the end.”

Missing Allen with a bruised rib, Cleveland got 16 points from Strus in his best game in the back-and-forth series. Mobley added 14 points and 13 rebounds and Morris, who had played just garbage time in the first four games, gave Cleveland grit and 12 points.

“He always brings that toughness,” Garland said of Morris, who signed with Cleveland on March 18. “A couple buckets, a couple of mid ranges. That’s what he’s known for. He made a big three ball for us in the corner. That was really huge.”

Mitchell, who has been slowed by a left knee injury, scored 14 in the fourth — going 9 of 10 at the line.

With Banchero leading the way, the Magic, who trailed 2-0 before winning big at home, stared down the Cavs and a hostile, towel-waving Cleveland crowd and were poised to pull off their first playoff road win since 2019 at Toronto.

But Mitchell, Garland and Mobley wouldn’t be denied and the Cavs, who are 16-0 when leading 2-0 in a series, stayed perfect at home.

“We got to do it again on the road,” Mitchell said. “We did our job. This doesn’t prove anything. We haven’t proven anything. We haven’t done anything. We got to go down there and handle business.”

The Cavaliers were short-handed as Allen, who has arguably been their best player in this back-and-forth series, sat out with what the team said was a bruised rib. His status for Game 6 is unknown.’

Allen, who is averaging 17.0 points and 13.8 rebounds, took an elbow to the ribs in the second half of Game 4 on Saturday. He practiced Monday but was added to the injury report before being ruled out.

With Allen out, coach J.B. Bickerstaff went with a smaller first five and started Isaac Okoro.

Bickerstaff has been criticized for a lack of adjustments. But he also went deeper into his bench right away, bringing in guard Sam Merrill and both Tristan Thompson and Morris, a 13-year journeyman.

“He’s been through these battles before,” Bickerstaff said of Morris. “He’s tough as nails. He’s not afraid of (stuff) and he’s got big courage like that shot he hit from the corner. There’s not a lot he hasn’t seen, so it was great for us to be able to go to him.”