Refuse to break in comeback victory against Luka Doncic and Mavericks
The Cleveland Cavaliers received a late Christmas gift as Cleveland sports continue to define themselves with a next-man-up mentality in the face of injuries, Caleb Crowley reports for the King James Gospel.
Both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Cleveland Browns’ fanbases have endured emotional roller-coaster seasons, watching their best players fall to injury only to have surprise contributors lift them over tough opponents.
Without Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland or Evan Mobley, a depleted Cavs team willed themselves to a 20-point comeback on the road against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks to finish the night 110-107. At the end of the first half, Cleveland trailed the Mavs by 15, but a third-quarter surge by Isaac Okoro, Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen brought the Cavaliers within single digits to start the final period.
LeVert led the Cavaliers in scoring with 29 points off the bench, followed by Jarrett Allen’s monstrous 24 points and 23 rebounds. Isaac Okoro shined once again in the starting five, ending with 22 points on a stellar 5-of-7 night from deep.
Out of Allen’s 23 rebounds, 9 came on the offensive glass, helping the Cavaliers to 15 second-chance points. Without Mobley at his side, Allen has been undeterred in the post, fighting tooth and nail for every missed shot on both ends of the court. Allen added six assists on the night, launching the ball to the open runner off of Dallas’ missed attempts.
As a team, the Cavaliers connected on 17 of their 43 3-point attempts and assisted on 33 of their 40 field goals on the night. Without their stars leading the way, Cleveland has consistently depended on an everchanging attack, finding the extra pass to an open shooter whenever possible.
The well-rounded team effort of Cleveland outlasted Doncic’s 39 points, but the primary tool that uplifted the Cavs was not the scoring and selfless passing. Rather, it was the same cornerstone that has defined this team for years: defense.
The Cavaliers earned their win with defense masterclass in Dallas
Isaac Okoro has had an undeniable offensive leap this season, but his defense has remained as stalwart as ever. Though his stat sheet does not display all the dribbles picked up and early passes he forces, his talent was on full display as he accepted the assignment of guarding Doncic all night.
The Cavaliers had one goal on defense, especially in the second half: make anybody other than Luka Doncic shoot the basketball. In the second half, the Cavs only allowed Doncic 10 points on 4-of-12 from the field and only gave him three free throws. With every botched Dallas possession, the Cavaliers wasted no time in running up the court and finding the hole in the Mavericks’ subpar defense.
Although the Cavaliers entered the night with a lengthy injury report, the Mavericks were not without their own missing star in former Cavalier Kyrie Irving. Without Irving, Cleveland’s defense suffocated Doncic’s every opportunity to close the game in the fourth quarter.
On top of their defense, the Cavaliers had another strong performance from a now-familiar face in Cleveland. Once again, undrafted rookie Craig Porter, Jr. put his nonstop energy and hustle on display, grabbing 12 rebounds and dishing out 7 assists. Without a consistent 3-point shot, Porter struggles to put on highlight-reel scoring performances each game, but his mid-range talent, rebounding and defense kept the Cavaliers in the fight time and time again.
n one play alone, Porter continuously gave the Cavaliers extra possessions with offensive rebounds and quick hands until they finally drained a 3-pointer from Okoro. This type of resiliency on defense and offense gave the Cavaliers the energy to push past a Mavericks team that began to coast in the third quarter after a resounding early run.
Craig Porter Jr. would NOT allow this to be an empty possession pic.twitter.com/t4P1YFOT4a
— Tony Pesta (@Tony_Pesta) December 28, 2023
The Cavaliers now sit 18-13 on the season and have a 3-1 record without their star trio of Garland, Mitchell and Mobley. While the season still has plenty of action left with plenty of questions remaining for the Cavs, this stretch of grind-it-out wins has been exactly what they needed. While their recent injuries appeared to be a death mark on the Cavs’ chances to avoid the Play-In Tournament, they remain in the mix to overtake the New York Knicks for the coveted sixth seed.
Following this win, the Cleveland Cavaliers will return home to Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse to welcome the new star tandem of Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday, December 29 at 7:30 pm Eastern Time. The Bucks currently sit in second place in the Eastern Conference, making them Cleveland’s toughest opponent since Mobley and Garland exited. Mitchell may return to the lineup in time, but there is no confirmation yet.