Updated April 21st, 2024 at 12:41 IST

Donovan Mitchell scores 30, Cavaliers open playoffs with tough-minded 97-83 win in Game 1 over Magic

Donovan Mitchell and the Cavaliers spent the week insisting they were better prepared for this year’s playoffs.

Donovan Mitchell scores 30 | Image:AP
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Donovan Mitchell and the Cavaliers spent the week insisting they were better prepared for this year’s playoffs.

On Saturday, they looked it.

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Mitchell scored 30 points, Jarrett Allen had 18 rebounds and the Cavs looked tougher — mentally and physically — than in last year’s first-round flop, beating the Orlando Magic 97-83 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference playoff series.

“Last year is over with,” Mitchell said. “We flushed that. This is who we are, and this is who we expect to be.”

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Evan Mobley added 16 points and Darius Garland had 14 for Cleveland, which got bullied and bounced in just five games by the New York Knicks in the 2023 postseason.

That experience scarred the Cavs, who entered these playoffs more confident, deeper (at least on paper) and relatively healthy after a regular season filled with injuries.

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Mitchell has been slowed for two months with a left knee bone bruise, but the All-Star guard moved well and looked much more like himself as Cleveland’s only viable offensive threat for more than two quarters.

In the first half, Mitchell scooped up a loose ball and went in for a soaring dunk that served notice that he was back, and that the Cavs would be much better in his second postseason with Cleveland.

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“This is who I am,” he said. “That’s kind of been my message all year. This is why I’m here. I could have had 10 points as long as we got the job done.”

Orlando’s Paolo Banchero scored 24 points in his playoff debut, but had nine turnovers. The Magic shot just 33% from the field — some of it attributed to bad shooting, some because of Cleveland’s defense.

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“We didn’t score enough,” Banchero said. “Just shots weren’t falling, but I thought we got good looks. We missed a lot of free throws (19 of 30) and didn’t make 3s (8 of 37). There were a lot of things we could have done a lot better.”

Game 2 is Monday at raucous Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, where fans didn’t have much to cheer last spring as the Knicks ended the Cavaliers’ run shortly after it began.

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Mitchell slept only two hours Friday night as his nerves — and the 1 p.m. tip — messed with his pregame routine. But once he got to the arena and heard Phil Collins’ anthemic “In The Air Tonight” blaring, he quickly got into playoff mode.

“He’s ready for the moment and it’s the Game 1s,” Cavs coach J.B. Bickestaff said. “It’s the bigger games during the regular season. He has the ability and the understanding of how important the start is, whatever that may be.”

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Like the Cavs a year ago, the Magic lack playoff experience and it showed.

Orlando’s offense was unorganized and Banchero too often tried to force things. He went 9 of 17 from the floor in 41 minutes.

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The Cavs have waited all season for a chance at redemption following last season’s first-round flameout.

And while they were in control for most of the game, they had just seven field goals over an 18-minute stretch and only led 60-56 when Banchero converted a three-point play with 4:24 left in the third.

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Mitchell settled things down with back-to-back buckets and Cleveland closed the third with a 13-2 run that sent the Cavs into the fourth leading by 15.

The Magic twice cut a 20-point deficit to nine in the fourth, but the Cavs responded and Mitchell’s 3-pointer with 4:44 left ended any thought of an Orlando comeback.

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Tempers flared between the teams in the second quarter, leading to some jawing, finger-pointing and two technical fouls being called.

Orlando’s Moritz Wagner pushed an off-balance Mobley as he was falling out of bounds on the baseline and his clapping annoyed Cleveland’s Isaac Okoro, who shoved Wagner and drew a technical.

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Moments later, Magic guard Markelle Fultz was assessed a flagrant-1 for his foul on Georges Niang, who was driving to the basket. Niang didn’t like it, walked toward Fultz and was slapped with a T for taunting as Cleveland’s crowd roared.

As if the Cavs needed any reminders, Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” played over the arena’s sound system as Fultz’s foul was reviewed.

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“It’s the playoffs, right?” said Niang, signed by the Cavs to improve their toughness. “You expect everything to just be amplified to a whole new level. So whatever they were planning on doing, I was expecting it to be as physical as it was, if not more physical.

“That’s just the playoffs. It’s a battle. You may have friends out there, but we’re not friends.”

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Published April 21st, 2024 at 09:32 IST