Cavs see improvement despite playoff loss

BOSTON (AP) — Cleveland Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff wants to come back for another season. After all, he’s already been through the hard part.

“This has been a difficult year for us, for a bunch of different reasons,” Bickerstaff said after the Cavaliers fell to Boston 113-98 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Wednesday night.

“They never found the time to fold on each other. All they did was find ways to compete,” he said. “Somehow, we were able to find a home-court spot going into the playoffs. A lot of people can’t say that they were able to accomplish that.”

Playing without All-Star Donovan Mitchell and center Jarrett Allen, the Cavaliers were no match for top-seeded Boston, which advanced to the Eastern Conference finals for the third year in a row and the sixth time in eight seasons.

Jayson Tatum had 25 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, and Al Horford added 22 points and 15 rebounds for Boston. Evan Mobley, who started at center in place of Allen, matched his season high with 33 points for the Cavaliers.

“We have to give Cleveland credit,” Horford said. “They were depleted and they didn’t quit. They pushed us to the brink.”

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert also praised the team in a social media post.

“Cleveland, it’s heartbreaking, but I am proud of the fight and the progress of this team. Thanks to all cavs fans and supporters who were there all season for us. The future is bright in The Land!.”

Now, the Cavaliers head into an offseason that could build on what they’ve accomplished — or involve a more extensive overhaul.

“Everything went wrong that could have went wrong,” said Cavs big man Marcus Morris Sr., who scored 25 points in over 33 minutes — both season highs and his most in a playoff game since 2021. “The last two games, we fought. Obviously, they’ve got great players over there, that put them in this position.”

After getting blown out in the first round by the Knicks last postseason and a slow start to this year – the Cavs were 18-15 on New Year’s Day – Bickerstaff had to contend with questions about his job security. But Cleveland went on a streak of 17 wins in 18 games, and then earned a No. 4 seed in the playoffs.

A seven-game victory over the Orlando Magic was the Cavs’ first postseason series win since LeBron James left – the second time – in 2018.

“I considered this season an improvement. To win a round in the playoffs isn’t easy,” Bickerstaff said. “Every single year, we’ve continued to improve: play-in, playoffs, win a round. … This is definitely a place I want to be.”

Asked if he expected to be back next year, Bickerstaff said: “No one’s told me I’m not. So I’ll keep showing up until they tell me not to.”

Bickerstaff isn’t the only big question for the Cavs.

Mitchell, who averaged just under 30 points in Cleveland’s first 10 playoff games this year, missed the last two with a strained left calf.

He is eligible to sign a contract extension this summer, but has not indicated whether he will.

Mitchell was at the game in street clothes on Wednesday night but did not speak to reporters. Allen missed the final eight games, and Caris LeVert — a star in Game 2, the Cavs’ only win, with 21 points — was also unavailable on Wednesday night.

“I would love to see what we look like when we’re whole for an entire season, what pressure we can put on the league from that standpoint,” Bickerstaff said.

“You would love to be that way. The teams that typically are healthy are the teams that end up having the most success, especially in the postseason. So you think about it, obviously, but, you know, I can’t take away from what guys that were able to go did.”


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