Okoro shines in preseason debut

Rookie puts Cavaliers ahead with .3 seconds to play

CLEVELAND, Ohio - Preseason basketball can be a funny thing.

In the midst of a global pandemic? Saturday night at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse was felt downright weird.

Such is life in 2020. But the Cavaliers were back on the floor for an actual game for the first time since March 10th.

And with everyone looking focused on what the future holds, Cavaliers’ rookie Isaac Okoro gave them a glimpse at how bright it could be in a 107-104 win over the Indiana Pacers.

“The best part of it was just the way that my teammates celebrated with me,” Okoro said. ““I feel I’ve been through those big time moments my whole life.”

The fifth-overall pick out of Auburn was brought to Cleveland to help on the defensive end of the floor. It’s debatable whether his crucial stop of T.J. McConnell late in the fourth quarter, or his go ahead And-1 with .3 seconds to play was more impactful.

Okoro will take both.

“Just getting a stop and getting a bucket, I give a lot of thanks to (Damyean) Dotson for looking up and seeing me,” Okoro said. “If it wasn’t for the pass there wouldn’t be a game winning shot.”

The young rookie shook off a sluggish start. After committing a couple early turnovers, he turned his debut it into an impressive outing.

“I wanted him to shoot the ball every time he was open. Obviously he’s capable of making shots but I think he was uncomfortable in those moments still trying to search and catch a rhythm,” Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said.

Okoro agreed, and once the shots started falling, they didn’t seem to stop.

“Once I wen tot the rim, I felt like I started getting more comfortable.” Okoro said. “I’m more of an inside out type of person so I like attacking the rim, once I hit my first shot I started feeling a little more comfortable.

While his comfort level rose, it didn’t come without some encouragement from his coach and teammates.

“Not only JB telling me but basically the whole team, the veterans, they were all telling me ‘just shoot the basketball,’” Okoro said. “Me not taking the shot is the worst situation. Just having the confidence to take the shot because going through all of training camp I was hitting those shots, so why not take it now?

They couldn’t agree more.

“He has to know that he belongs in here,” said Cedi Osman, who led the Cavs with a team-high 23 points. “That’s what we were really trying to help him with in the beginning.”

The result was Okoro pouring in 16 of his 18-points in the final frame.

“I think he caught a rhythm. He was more aggressive on taking what the defense was giving him,” Bickerstaff said. “Because of his ability to attack the rim, and his high level finishing. If people have to press up on him he’s going to be a nightmare to guard.”

Despite still being a teenager, the 19-year-old joined the Cavaliers with the monicker “ice,” a billing tabbed on him by his AAU coach.

“He has a reputation for finishing and closing games,” Cavs’ coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “You ask him about it, he’ll tell you that’s how he earned it.”

His performance against the Pacers also earned his first-ever game ball, but hopefully not his last.

“It’s crazy, my first game, I get the game ball,” Okoro said. “I’ll probably put it in a plaque or something that says “‘first preseason game ball.”

GAME NOTES- The Cavaliers were without Colin Sexton, Kevin Porter Jr and newly acquired JaVale McGee.

In the midst of a global pandemic? Saturday night at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse was felt downright weird.

Such is life in 2020. But the Cavaliers were back on the floor for an actual game for the first time since March 10th.

And with everyone looking focused on what the future holds, Cavaliers’ rookie Isaac Okoro gave them a glimpse at how bright it could be in a 107-104 win over the Indiana Pacers.