Back to the basics: Cavs go back to junkyard roots in win over Bulls

Craig Porter Jr.
Craig Porter Jr. / Michael Reaves/GettyImages

Over the past couple of seasons, the Cleveland Cavaliers have developed their signature junkyard dog mentality. That has helped them succeed in their rebuild, and build a toughness that bonds the team. It reminds them to do whatever is necessary to win games. It is so significant to them that they award a chain to the player who played with the most grit in their wins. However, at times over the past year, the Cavs have lost sight of that mentality.

In the postseason against the New York Knicks, they were not junkyard dogs. They were puppies. When they started this season 4-6, there was no bark or bite to them. Since the injury news to Darius Garland and Evan Mobley though, the Cavs have found their way back to that mentality. Even before the injury news, they were getting back to the junkyard dog mentality. It has been shining through in the last five games.

The Cavaliers are 4-1 since it was announced that two of their best players would be down, including a huge 109-95 road win over the Chicago Bulls. Even during this stretch, they have dealt with even more injuries. Just take a look at this injury report prior to the Bulls game: 

  • Darius Garland (fractured jaw)
  • Donovan Mitchell (illness)
  • Caris LeVert (knee soreness)
  • Sam Merrill (sprained wrist)
  • Evan Mobley (knee surgery)
  • Ty Jerome (ankle sprain)
  • Ricky Rubio (personal)

All of these injuries led to this starting five:

Craig Porter Jr.

Max Strus

Isaac Okoro

Dean Wade

Jarrett Allen

They were missing their top four scorers, top five projected guards coming into the season, and only had 10 available players. The odds were against the Cavs from tip-off. That did not matter to them.

The Cavs went back to their junkyard roots in a big win over the Bulls.

From the first few minutes of the game, it seemed that the goal for the Cavs was to play with a lot of freedom. Strus, Okoro, and Wade were shooting any slightly open three-pointer available to them, and they kept shooting even if they missed. It was a theme that continued throughout the game for that trio, as they shot a combined 32 three-pointers. They only made eight combined, but their aggressiveness kept the defense honest, and opened things up inside.

Strus especially was the engine of the offense, as he led the way with 26 points, and kept the Bulls on their heels all night long. Okoro was aggressive as well, and even though he only went three-of-nine, it was the fact that he was looking to create for others, and create his own shot at the same time. That is an area where he needs to improve, so it was good to see him take strides. 

As for the frontcourt, this was one of the rare nights where they did not miss Mobley. Jarrett Allen was a man on a mission. He largely had his way in the paint with Bulls center Nikola Vucevic, especially on the glass.

Allen had 17 total rebounds on the evening, and eight of them were offensive rebounds. As a team, the Cavs had 15 offensive rebounds, and outscored the Bulls 30-4 on second chance points. Allen played a huge role in that. Tristan Thompson also did his part to help the cause, as he had six rebounds in 13 minutes, and four of those rebounds were offensive. It is just amazing to see Thompson still contributing even as he gets older, and looking as spry as he did during the 2016 championship run as well. 

The star of this game though was no doubt Craig Porter Jr.

Porter was supposed to be a two-way contract player that would spend most of his time in the G-League this season. However, injuries have forced the youngster into a big role for this Cavaliers team, and he has more than delivered. Porter finished with 19 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists on eight-of-14 shooting. He was hounded by Bulls guard Alex Caruso all night long, and he more than handled the pressure. Porter was calm, and poised throughout the game.

He ran the offense to perfection, and hit some timely shots whenever the Cavs offense stagnated. He was the only playmaker available for the Cavaliers, and he more than delivered. In a season where the Cavs have been without Rubio, and Jerome for long stretches, Porter may have provided the team with a solution at backup point guard.

Against the Bulls, the junkyard dog, and next man up mentality were very much present for the Cavs. They were not ready to roll over, and accept defeat. Great teams go through adversity, and have to deal with hardship. This Cavaliers team is learning how to deal with that, and win. No one knows if this is sustainable. That does not mean the Cavs are going to stop fighting.

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For this Wine and Gold team, it is never about the size of the dog in the fight. It is about the size of the junkyard in the dog.