While the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ win over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday will forever be remembered as the “Isaac Okoro three-pointer” game, it very nearly was the “Donovan Mitchell isn’t clutch” game.
That’s because immediately before Okoro’s ice-cold game-winner, the Cavs All-Star was sent to the line for two free throws and Cleveland was down two. At best, he could tie up the game and send it to OT; the Cavs are a perfect 7-0 in overtime games this season.
Yet Mitchell missed both free throws to the shock of everyone on and off the floor.
Thankfully, the Cavs didn’t quit on the play, something JB Bickerstaff was proud of after the game. The coach also used the podium to admonish Mitchell for not taking care of business with the free throws.
I thought we did a great job defensively of getting some stops to put ourselves in that position. You know, you missed the free throw, we had multiple opportunities at it, but guys didn’t quit on the play.”
Among the players surprised by Mitchell’s miscues at the line was Okoro, who opened up about the play after the game.
Isaac Okoro Describes Cavs’ Game-Saving Three Over Nets
While Mitchell played hero against the Nets earlier in the week, landing a game-tilting dunk over Brooklyn big man Yuta Watanabe, he was very nearly the reason Cleveland lost on Thursday.
After the game, Okoro described his surprise at Mitchell’s failure to convert the free throws and his own preparedness when the ball came to him.
“I saw Don miss those layups and I’m just standing, I’m shocked,” Okoro told reporters after the game, per the Cavaliers’ official YouTube channel. “Then the ball goes out to Caris. I’m just running to the corner, going to my spot, Vert trusted me, threw me the ball, and once it left my hand, I knew it was going in.
Okoro also didn’t shy away from describing the stakes of his shot, expressing his gratitude that his team didn’t lose faith in the third-year pro.
“There was a lot of pressure into the shot, of course, but I practice that. I’m gonna keep being confident in it, my teammates are gonna keep trusting me and passing me the ball in the corner and I’ll keep taking it,” Okoro finished.
Heading into the Nets game Thursday, Okoro was 0-3 from deep in his previous two starts. But Okoro found his stroke Thursday, going 3-4 from deep, including the game-winner.
Donovan Mitchell Sounds Off on Isaac Okoro’s Shot
And no one was happier about Okoro’s make than Mitchell.
“If you see my reaction when the ball goes in, I’m kinda like looking around like what the hell just happened,” Mitchell explained, per Chris Fedor of cleveland.com. “I think everybody else had the same thing.”
Had the Cavs not won, the narrative would have continued to revolve around Cleveland’s late-game execution struggles.
The Cavs are one of the NBA’s more mediocre teams in the clutch. When it matters most, the Cavs rank 18th in clutch field goal percentage, 14th in three-point percentage, and 23rd in points scored.
In keeping with Mitchell’s poor free-throw shooting late, the Cavs are a dismal 25th in clutch free-throw shooting.
Those late-game miscues are one reason why the Cavs have been unable to shake the “inexperienced” label; that, and the fact that the Cavs are currently untested as a playoff group.