Sunday, June 4 2023

Entering Thursday night’s matchup against the Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Isaac Okoro hadn’t made a 3-pointer in a little over a week, eight days to be exact. He’s shooting a career-high 35.3% from downtown on the year, but the last couple games had been unkind to his shooting percentage. Well, that mini shooting slump ended Thursday night when Okoro not only went 3 of 4 from downtown, but knocked down the game-winning triple to stamp the Cavs’ 116-114 comeback win on the road.

The shot was epic, but the circumstances made it even more of a thriller. After being down by nine points with a little under five minutes left, the Cavaliers fought tooth and nail to cut down on Brooklyn’s lead. Clutch shots by Donovan Mitchell and excellent defense on the other end had Cleveland to within two points with 24 seconds left. A Caris LeVert steal on the following possession led to Mitchell being fouled with the chance to tie the game with 11.6 seconds left. Mitchell converted on the first free throw, then this happened:

The wildest part about Okoro’s game-winner is he wasn’t even in the game until checking in between Mitchell’s free throws. Okoro checked out of the game with 6:44 left in the fourth quarter, and Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff likely put him back in as a defensive presence after Mitchell made both free throws. That, of course, didn’t happen. After a few chaotic seconds, and an excellent cross-court pass from LeVert, the ball landed in Okoro’s hands for him to knock down the first game-winning shot attempt of his career.

After the game, Bickerstaff praised the third-year forward in what was the biggest shot of his professional career.

“Isaac doesn’t play the game with any emotions or fears,” Bickerstaff said. “There’s no reservations in his game. He works his tail off on that shot, and he does not have fear of taking shots in the moment. But I think what’s most important is Caris [LeVert] saw that he was open, trusted him and got him the ball, and that speaks to this team.”

Bickerstaff’s right about Okoro working “his tail off” to become a better 3-point shooter. This is a guy who entering the league shot just 28.6% from beyond the arc in his lone season at Auburn. In Okoro’s rookie year, he shot 214 3s, still the most in his career, while only making them at a 29% clip. But last year that percentage ballooned to 35%, the same mark he’s making them this season. It’s a stark improvement and a testament to the work that Okoro’s put in to being able to knock down that shot efficiently.

With Okoro’s late-game heroics lifting the Cavaliers to a win, Cleveland maintains an even firmer grip on the No. 4 spot in the East. The Cavs are five games ahead of the No. 5 New York Knicks who fell to the Orlando Magic Thursday night, and sit 3.5 games back of the No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers. Although nothing has been solidified in terms of playoff positioning, with seven games remaining on the schedule for the Cavaliers, it appears as though they’ve got that No. 4 spot — and home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs — all locked up.



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