Cleveland Cavaliers respond to JB Bickerstaff’s fiery, curse-filled halftime speech in win over Orlando

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cleveland Cavaliers head coach JB Bickerstaff was miffed. More so than usual. Only this time it wasn’t at the officiating crew, who tends to get an earful from the fiery Bickerstaff on a nightly basis.

Bickerstaff’s target: His team, following a half-hearted first-half effort.

“I can’t repeat it,” Bickerstaff said when asked about what he said to the guys at halftime. “My mom will wash my mouth out with soap.”

That was Bickerstaff’s punishment as a child for swearing. So, just how many curse words did he use in that passionate rant?

“A lot. I couldn’t tell you how many,” Evan Mobley said following the 103-92 win. “He kinda lit us up.”

“Outside of practice, that’s the most animated he has been,” Dean Wade told “We weren’t playing up to our standards and he let us know. He was pretty fired up. We needed it. Was a pretty good way to get us hyped for the second half.”

“We deserved it,” said Jarrett Allen. “All I’ll say is you see how animated JB is during the game, just multiply that by three. It got us going.”

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A Wednesday night matchup against the winless, rebuilding Orlando Magic right before a prime-time showdown against the reigning Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics had all the makings of the proverbial trap game. Bickerstaff knew it. He spoke about it before the game, wondering out loud about the level of maturity his young group would show when it came to respecting a lesser opponent.

He got his answer in the first half — and he didn’t like it.

“I don’t think we played Cleveland Cavaliers basketball in the first half,” Bickerstaff said. “Defensively, I didn’t like the way we were competing. Things were too easy. I thought we were trying to do too much offensively instead of taking the play that was in front of us. I just didn’t like our attention to detail. I know, all of it.”

The Cavs led by just four at the break — an edge only created as a result of a late-quarter 8-0 run. There were nine lead changes and four ties despite playing a team that has its sights set on ping-pong balls instead of wins. While rebounds were even, the Cavs were getting pummeled inside, as the long, athletic Magic shot 18 of 30 in the paint (Orlando had a plus-16 advantage) and 50% overall.

So, the fire was lit, and the players responded — an emphatic retort led by Allen and Mobley, the two frontcourt pillars who anchored the defense, played with increased physicality at both ends and proudly shared the coveted Junkyard Dog Award, something that has never happened before.

Mobley scored 17 of his team-high 22 points in the second half. All but one of his seven shots made came in the lane.

“He was determined to help us win this game,” Bickerstaff said of the 21-year-old phenom. “We know what he’s capable of. We believe in him a lot. He was attack-minded and he went out to prove a point. I think he did that.”

Mobley is still finding his rhythm following a shortened training camp and preseason because of a sprained ankle. He also hasn’t had ample opportunity to play alongside newbie Donovan Mitchell, who rested the night of Mobley’s lone exhibition appearance. They are still building on-court chemistry.

Over the last few days, Bickerstaff has been talking about the importance of getting Mobley more involved on the offensive end. The two have been chatting about where Mobley wants the ball and how he can best be used. Bickerstaff vowed to get him more shots and more touches from different places, tapping into his different skillset. He backed up that promise — and Mobley delivered his best all-around game of the young season.

“He went out there and fought in the paint,” Allen said of Mobley. “Throwing bodies, going after his own rebound, going out there and showing why he’s Evan Mobley. Just be the best player out there every night. That tenacity, he’s a quiet guy, we know that, but he can still come out there with a lot of energy and do what he does, make buckets and block shots.

“It is going to take him a while to get in that season form to see where we saw him last year where he left off. But as we keep going, I think tonight’s a perfect example of who he can be and what he can do on the court.”

Fueled by Bickerstaff’s message, Allen showed the same. He was an energetic inner monster.

In 13 second-half minutes, the All-Star center scored 11 of his 18 points and grabbed 10 of his 16 rebounds — a double-double in one half. He also made four of his five shot attempts, with three of those being dunks. One was a violent posterization of Orlando’s 7-foot-2 backup center Bol Bol — a throwdown that had players talking on the bench and in the locker room.

“I probably barked,” Allen said with a laugh. “I don’t know what happened. We were talking about just being aggressive and dunking everything.”

“That’s how Jarrett Allen leads,” Bickerstaff added. “He’s not the most vocal guy, but guys follow his actions. That’s what we’ve become accustomed to. That’s what we needed from him. There was no answer for him when he decided to go get it done.”

It led to a Cavs-like second half. Stingy defense. Scrappiness. Intensity. Fight.

Cleveland led all 24 minutes. It held Orlando to 42 points on 35.9% shooting while forcing eight turnovers and only giving up one second-chance basket.

Last season, Bickerstaff lamented perplexing losses against teams with worse records. In his eyes, there were too many of them, which played a critical role in missing the playoffs. Washington twice. Charlotte twice. Detroit twice. Houston. Orlando. He hoped this year would be different, that his hunted group would learn lessons from that. Prior to tipoff, he even reiterated the importance of approaching every game with the same mindset and making sure the standards don’t change based on the opponent.

The first-half malaise felt too familiar. It drew his anger. The Cavs were headed for another one of those bafflers and Bickerstaff wasn’t about to let it happen — again. So, he used the halftime break to get his point across. Sternly. With vulgarity.

Message received.

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