After the Cleveland Cavaliers 118-108 home victory against the Los Angeles Clippers, Donovan Mitchell and head coach J.B. Bickerstaff officially began a campaign to send Isaac Okoro to the 2023-24 All-Defensive Team.
In Evan Mobley's long-awaited return for the wine and gold, the Cleveland Cavaliers secured win 29 on the season over the Los Angeles Clippers. Donovan Mitchell led the Cavs with 28 points and 11 assists alongside Jarrett Allen's fifteenth-consecutive double-double with 20 points and 17 rebounds. In 21 minutes due to a minutes restriction, Mobley contributed 10 points and 9 rebounds.
After splitting a two games with the Milwaukee Bucks on the road, the Cavs entered the night in a tight contest with the New York Knicks for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. While the Knicks' win saved their half-game lead over Cleveland, the Cavaliers will play their next three games against franchises at the bottom of their respective conference rankings. If there is a stretch for the Cavs to reintroduce Mobley and Darius Garland, who may return in their Wednesday game against the Detroit Pistons, and build upon their momentum, it is now.
Starting Isaac Okoro's All-Defensive Team campaign
While Cleveland's stars gave the fans plenty of reasons to cheer on offense, they also exemplified what has placed them in the highest stratosphere of NBA defenses. The Clippers' big three of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and James Harden combined for 54 points, but only Leonard scored over 15 points in the game. Harden ended the night with 11 points and three turnovers, and George finished with 13 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
Following the win, a handful of Cavs lavished Isaac Okoro for his stifling defensive performance against both Harden and George. Okoro was the primary defender on both of the Los Angeles stars, often forcing them into difficult heaves at the end of the shot clock. As the cherry on top, Okoro was the only Cavalier to end the game with zero fouls called on him. Postgame, Donovan Mitchell and Bickerstaff ensured interviewers knew who was the X-Factor in the win.
Per Evan Dammarell of Right Down Euclid, Bickerstaff applauded Okoro as the league's best perimeter point-of-attack defender, though he admitted to holding bias. Mitchell, however, gave an emphatic interview and took Bickerstaff's comments a step further, arguing that Okoro has earned a spot on the All-Defensive First Team this season. It would be the second year in a row for a Cavalier to grace the roster, as Evan Mobley joined the ranks as one of the youngest players to be named to the All-Defensive First Team.
Amid his praise for Okoro, Donovan Mitchell passionately commended his team, stating his frustration that his teammates do not receive their credit when the public believes Cleveland only wins because of him. His comments ring true, as the Cavs' reserves have allowed Mitchell to rest for nearly the entire fourth quarter numerous times over their recent eight-game winning streak. With Mobley back and Garland not far behind, Cleveland has found their stride and seemingly has one of the best chemistries in the Association.
With continuous rumors about Mitchell's desire to abandon the Cavaliers via trade this summer or free agency the following offseason, his unwavering support and love for this squad suggests a different mindset. Mitchell has never faltered in showing loyalty to his team and never requested a trade from the Utah Jazz in the first place. While the national media shout that he wants to get to New York City as soon as possible, Mitchell has only ever doubled down on his love for his current team.
As for the homegrown wing Okoro, he has certainly built a strong case for All-Defensive honors and made his mark with the Cavs this season. In Cleveland's four-game season series against the Bucks, Okoro held superstar point guard Damian Lillard to a total of 26 points on 9-of-34 shooting. Lillard also shot a pitiful 17.6 percent from beyond the arc in 24 minutes against Okoro.
In Cleveland's 22 games without Evan Mobley leading their defense, they have posted the league's best defensive rating with 110.3, a feat that would have been impossible without Okoro taking every assignment thrown his way. With restricted free agency approaching for Isaac Okoro and the Cavs this offseason, his prominent defensive play might guarantee him a sizeable second contract in the NBA.
The Cavaliers have built their current reputation through defense. With Allen and Mobley anchoring the interior, it has been Okoro maintaining the team's grit on the point-of-attack. Without Okoro's tenacity and strength, Cleveland's defense would be entirely different. They may still be a high-caliber defensive team, but Okoro has been the Cavs' answer to mask their undersized backcourt's deficiencies these past two years.
Okoro's defense has always been the cornerstone of his value in the NBA, and this year he has shown an intensity like no other. Offensively, Okoro has plenty of room for growth, but his confidence has risen on both ends of the court. As he continues to stack up nights locking down the best guards and wings in the league, Okoro's case for regular-season honors will only rise.
The Cleveland Cavaliers will host the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday, January 31 at 7:00 pm Eastern Time before a two-game road trip to face the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs.