The short-staffed Cleveland Cavaliers traveled to Dallas for its 15th road game of the season and upset the hosts, 113-110. It marked 10 straight games since the starting lineup last played together. In addition to Darius Garland and Evan Mobley being on the shelf, Donovan Mitchell missed his fourth-straight game recovering from an illness.
Early, the defense was problematic, going down as much as 20 points, but it tightened up, and the visitors established control in the last quarter. Throughout, Cleveland’s attack converted 39.5% of its deep shots, and four players recorded at least 16 points.
Jarrett Allen impersonated Moses Malone. Craig Porter Jr. setup his teammates and picked up extra possessions. Caris LeVert burned Mavericks off the catch and dribble. And Isaac Okoro and Georges Niang lit up the perimeter.
At halftime, the Mavs led by 14 points, but the defense held Dallas to 21 points on 36.8% shooting in the third.
In the fourth, LeVert took over, scoring 15 of Cleveland’s 31 points at distance, close range and charity line as the hosts went through a drought for nearly five minutes.
In clutch time, coach J.B. Bickerstaff challenged a charge foul on LeVert, which was overturned to a blocking foul on Dallas’ Williams. It sent LeVert to the line, putting Cleveland up five points. He would then ice the game with Cleveland’s last two field goals- a pull-up triple on the left wing and a floating bank shot on the right side.
The Cavaliers won a game they weren't supposed to win. Let’s examine the takeaways:
Points in the paint
Only 46 of Cleveland’s points came in the box, with 23 makes on 48 tries. Allen Porter, LeVert and Okoro were the players generating rim pressure.
With Dallas playing rookie Dereck Lively II at center and going small using Grant Williams when he sat, Allen feasted on the glass for putbacks, and blew by his defender - often Lively - in single coverage on the baseline, and rolled well to the rim. He was responsible for 18 of the Cavs’ paint points.
In Okoro’s case, he executed a give-and-go gash through the center with LeVert and plowed into Luka Dončić and Williams at the cup.
Porter maneuvered into the lane, assisted by the handoff, for three finishes in the restricted area, and tallied seven dimes as Dallas over-helped off shooters and was a step behind the roller.
The Cavaliers had 16 turnovers, six more than the Mavericks, which burned them for 15 points.
Three of these were unforced errors on a handoff, Tristan Thompson illegally grabbing Dwight Powell’s arm and Allen losing his dribble in the lane. On the others, the Cavs were pickpocketed or its passes were intercepted.
Against Dallas’ set defense, Cleveland scored 94.6 points per 100 half-court plays, good enough for the 41st percentile of all games this season, per Cleaning the Glass. Those marks aren’t good enough, but the visiting attack got a boost, scoring 14 points on the break.
To their credit, the Cavaliers did impressively pick up an offensive rebound on 37.5 percent of their half-court possessions.
Five different Cavaliers recorded a trifecta, totaling 17 of 43 makes; LeVert, Okoro and Niang all hit at least four 3-pointers.
LeVert didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger with a man close by. Niang scorched Derrick Jones Jr. for shading too far from the key, buried a triple in transition and hit one in Dončić and Josh Green’s faces.
Okoro splashed two in the corner- one when left open and the second after sizing up Tim Hardaway Jr. following the close out.
Uncharacteristically, sharpshooters Max Strus and Dean Wade combined to shoot just 3-for-13 on their 3-pointers.
The Cavaliers totaled 33 assists, seven more than their average. Allen, Strus, Porter and LeVert had at least six, working the handoffs and feeds off dribble penetration to shooters or cutters. Multiple distributors on the floor made it difficult for Dallas to slow down the offense.
After praising Allen for his defensive contributions, Bickerstaff said, “We put the ball in his hands, and let him make the right basketball play, and he finishes with six assists… He’s been carrying us.”