Dribbles: Cavs use total team effort to frustrate Jokic, dominate defending champs

CLEVELAND — Random dribbles from the Cavaliers’ impressive 121-109 home over the Nuggets on Sunday.Craig Porter Jr

1. You’re facing the defending NBA champions. You don’t have Donovan Mitchell, Caris LeVert or (again) Isaac Okoro and Ty Jerome. And you run the Nuggets out of the building, anyway.

2. That’s what you call a successful Sunday evening. The Cavs have now won three straight and five of seven overall. They’re back above .500 as a result (7-6).

3. I see your comments on my Twitter and Facebook page, and I’m always grateful for them — negative, positive, whatever. But to me, the fact this team has gone 5-2 and been forced to play some of those without Mitchell, at least one more apiece without LeVert and Darius Garland, and six straight without Okoro … well, it tells me things are actually pretty good.

4. For the most part, the Cavs are showing they have plenty of weapons and are getting closer to sticking with their defensive mindset. As Jarrett Allen said about his own contributions after Sunday’s win, a lot of it is coming down to “energy and effort.”

5. Garland scored 26 and passed for a team-high six assists, all coming within the flow of the offense. In other words, he forced nothing. His 10-of-16 shooting offers reason to believe he’s feeling very comfortable out there.

6. Of course, Mitchell gave the game ball to backup point guard Craig Porter Jr., who scored a career-high 21 on 7-of-10 shooting. He also went 7-of-7 from the free-throw line.

7. Porter is the youngest of five children and said his older siblings roughed him up when he played sports as a kid. So he admittedly doesn’t mind contact today, attacking the defense and drawing fouls. 

8. He also said he wasn’t expecting to play so much this early in the season, given that the Cavs had Mitchell, Garland, LeVert and Jerome ahead of him on the depth chart. But he is definitely making the most of the opportunity.

9. Porter did not get drafted out of Wichita State this past summer. The knock on him was he wouldn’t be much of a scorer at this level. It just goes to show that scouts (and sportswriters) don’t know everything. ‘Each game the confidence builds and builds,” Porter said.

10. Mostly, this was a team effort in the truest sense. You don’t build a season-high lead of 26 points over the defending champions otherwise.

11. Evan Mobley added 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Allen scored 15. He also compiled. plus-42, meaning the Cavs outscored Denver by 42 with Allen on the court.

12. That’s actually not a Cavs record, but no one in Cleveland has put together a better plus-minus since Dion Waiters had a plus-45 back in 2014. (Yes, Dion Waiters, everybody.)

13. Allen also did a more-than-solid job on Nikola Jokic, with some help from Mobley, especially in the second half. Jokic finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists — which actually could be considered an off night for him. He got into foul trouble early and stayed there most of the game.

14. Allen said that when it came to defending Jokic, his coaches and teammates reminded him about “bringing energy and effort.” Always humble, he added, “They say I took (Jokic) out of the game, but he still almost had a triple-double.”

15. That’s true. But Jokic does that against everyone. The truth is, he had his worst game of the season and Allen had plenty to do with that.

16. Dean Wade played one of his better games, finishing 2-of-4 on 3-pointers and tying Mobley with a team-high 10 rebounds in 24 minutes. Georges Niang added a quiet 12 points off the bench and Max Strus scored 11.

17. All in all, this was a big win, given that the Cavs have a toughie of a schedule for the rest of Thanksgiving week. They visit the 76ers in another one of those In-Season Tournament games on Tuesday, before returning home to face the defending Eastern Conference champion Heat the next night. Then, it’s LeBron James and the Lakers in Cleveland on Saturday night.

18. Final word from coach J.B. Bickerstaff: “We did a great job of executing the game plan. I thought Jarrett Allen was phenomenal. He accepted the challenge. He was physical, he was intelligent, made (Jokic) work for everything. As a group offensively, I thought we did a great job of sharing the ball, playing together and taking what was there.”

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