The Cleveland Cavaliers, despite making it this far in the 2024 NBA playoffs, haven’t inspired much confidence. What the Cavs are doing must be celebrated, as they made it to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in the post-LeBron James era. Instead, the dominant narrative surrounding them has been the underperformance of the team’s young foundational pieces, one of whom is Evan Mobley.

But on Thursday night, Mobley woke up and performed with aplomb as the Cavs tied up their second-round series against the Boston Celtics at one apiece with a dominant 118-94 victory. After putting up lackluster performances as the team’s center amid Jarrett Allen’s bouts against a rib injury that has kept him out since Game 4 of the first round against the Orlando Magic, Mobley put up 21 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists, and they outscored the Celtics by 35 points in his 33 minutes.

In so doing, Evan Mobley became the youngest Cavs player since LeBron James to put up a 20-10-5 game in the playoffs, per StatMuse. Mobley is only 22 years old, and he’s quietly proving his doubters wrong as he aims to ascend to an even higher level in this year’s playoffs.

It’s easy to forget how young Mobley is given how composed he looks on the floor. His defensive reading of the game is top tier as well, making him look like a veteran. His offensive game, however, is what’s going to determine his ceiling. In Game 2 against the Celtics, Mobley flashed who he can be at his best — a mobile defensive big man who can protect the rim while also being comfortable making plays for others via handoffs and via passes from the midpost area.

Evan Mobley proves his doubters wrong

The 2023-24 regular season was a bit of a lost one for Evan Mobley. He played in only 50 games as he dealt with knee and ankle problems, and it didn’t seem like he improved much from last season. The only noticeable difference in his game was his improved shooting stroke from beyond the arc, although the sample size in that regard isn’t huge quite yet.

In the 2024 NBA playoffs, Mobley has gone through some similar ups and downs. He has not proven to be a major piece on the offensive end, as he doesn’t have a ton of moves in the post. He’s also not able to create too much for himself off the dribble. Mobley mostly relies on other people to set him up, so it’s not like he could give Donovan Mitchell plenty of help on that end of the floor.

Mobley’s lowest point of the season came in Game 6 of the Magic series. In a closeout game the Cavs led entering the final frame, Mobley was nowhere to be found. He was in foul trouble, and he was invisible on the offensive end. He scored just three points on 1-5 shooting from the field, and his critics came out in full force.

Prior to Game 2 of the Celtics series, Evan Mobley drew a scathing evaluation from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. Windhorst expressed his frustrations over Mobley’s lack of development in his scoring game, and it wasn’t too hard to see why. Mobley has the athleticism to be a more dominant force on the interior, and he has a bit of a shooting touch, so he should be a more well-rounded offensive option than he has been for the Cavs to this point.

Nonetheless, Thursday night was a step in the right direction for Mobley. The Cavs will need more of this from him moving forward, especially amid the uncertainty of Jarrett Allen’s injury. Defense and rebounding is where Mobley still butters his bread, but the team needs him to step up offensively to prevent Donovan Mitchell from having to take on the world on his own.

LeBron James, the greatest Cavs player of all time

LeBron James was only 21 years of age when he put up a 21-10-5 game for the Cavs in the playoffs. And just to put James’ greatness in even better perspective, he tallied 32 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists in his playoff debut, setting the stage for the King’s incredible history in the postseason. James ended his Cavs career with 58 playoff games of 20+ points, 10+ rebounds, and five-plus assists, which is simply unreal.

There’s no disputing that James is the greatest Cavs player of all time, and it’s not even particularly close. But James was a different animal at a young age. At the very least, Evan Mobley and Darius Garland can have someone to look towards as a role model. James brought it in every playoff game and he was more than willing to do whatever it takes to will his team to victory.

Against the Celtics, Donovan Mitchell will need all the help he can get. Mobley and Garland have to make sure that Mitchell is not on an island as they take on the team that finished with the best record in the NBA this past season.