Cleveland Cavaliers to reward Junkyard Dog chain after wins
CLEVELAND — Early in the season, forward Lamar Stevens started barking for the Cavaliers to embrace their underdog mentality and the practice quickly spread.
It continues after practices, before and after games, and on the bench after big plays. Even Cavs legend Austin Carr, the team’s television analyst, was persuaded to make one.
Coach JB Bickerstaff took that theme to the next level on Saturday with a coveted and eye-catching symbol of honor.
Bickerstaff chose guard Isaac Okoro as the first to wear the Junkyard Dog chain after the Cavs’ 92-86 win over the Washington Wizards at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
Designed by Jared, the necklace with a massive “C” is a new idea from Bickerstaff to recognize the player who brings the most scrap and impact to the game. It will be returned to the locker room after each win.
Okoro posted photos on Instagram, including one of Bickerstaff putting the collar on him while center Jarrett Allen smiles in the background.
Okoro has been the Cavs’ best player beyond the boxscore all season, diving for loose balls, battling down the lane and setting the tone with his hustle.
But against the Wizards, Bickerstaff replaced Okoro with star forward Kyle Kuzma in the fourth quarter. Kuzma hit a career-high eight 3s and finished with 34 points, but Okoro held Kuzma to a field goal in the final 5:50 as the Wizards made just one of their last 10 shots.
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Kuzma connected on a 17-foot fadeaway to cut the Cavs’ lead to one with 1:11 remaining. But in the final 30.6 seconds, Kuzma missed a 15-foot crossfade and a 26-foot pull-up with Okoro chasing him.
“You look at the stat sheet, you’re not going to see Isaac’s flashiest numbers every night,” Allen said. “But the impact he has on us off the pitch and defensively, and just our morale as a team, you just can’t put it in numbers. It’s intangible because it makes us moving forward. It allows us to play a better defense. You see him running the pitch every time, he just does all the little things you can ask.
Forward Lauri Markkanen also congratulated Okoro, who entered the NBA All-Star Rising Stars competition on February 18.
“He showed he can do things offensively too, but his defense is incredible… [he] made hustle plays and rebounds,” Markkanen said. “I think it gets everyone going too. It’s a very big chunk of it. We always talk about the three-[big] man, but having him on duty is huge for us and he’s doing a great job.
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Okoro has been guarding the opponent’s best player since being drafted fifth overall from Auburn in 2020. Bickerstaff said after a win at Indiana on Feb. 11 that Okoro has the ability to take enemies out of the game .
“It’s not easy to do in this league,” Bickerstaff said then. “He has a unique ability to push through screens and get back past guys when it’s pick and roll or when they have the ball. And then when they’re out of the ball, he does a great job of getting through the screens where the guys can’t even catch the ball.
“That’s the way to stop these great attacking players, it’s to limit their touches and I think he’s one of the best in the league to do that.”
Bickerstaff was equally enthusiastic in praising Okoro on Saturday as the guardless Cavs (36-24) snapped a three-game losing streak.
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“He’s the type of player who can honestly score zero points and be the most impactful player on the court,” Bickerstaff said. “It’s not sexy, people don’t write about it, I’m glad you asked about it. But his impact on winning is second to none and has been since he’s been here with us. .
“We put him in extremely difficult situations since he was a rookie here, and he never flinched, never hesitated. The only thing he does is try to help us to win. And he wins it in the effort, he wins it in a way that most people don’t want to do. I think we’re lucky to have him.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at [email protected] Learn more about the Cavs at www.beaconjournal.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.