Cleveland Cavaliers shake emotional hangover late, rally to beat Phoenix Suns 90-88
CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Cleveland Cavaliers rocked their emotional state at just the right time.
Two nights after Donovan Mitchell’s historic performance, Cleveland looked spent and tired for much of the game. But as they have done all season, the Cavs kept fighting and found a way in the fourth quarter, beating the Phoenix Suns, 90-88. Phoenix has lost four straight and seven of its last eight. Cleveland has now won three straight.
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The Cavs missed nine straight shots to open the game. They didn’t make their first field goal until 5:38 of the opening quarter. They went 0 of 14 from 3-point range early on. Scored just 33 points on 28.9% shooting and 15.8% from 3-point range in a terrible first half — their fewest all season.
While the offense picked up a bit in the second half, the Cavs won Wednesday’s game on the defensive end of the floor — staying true to their identity.
“I thought even though our offense was obviously struggling, we didn’t give up on it,” Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff said after the win. “We gave ourselves a chance because we continue to compete on the defensive end of the floor. That’s what you have to do.”
Cleveland held Phoenix to 88 points on 39.5% shooting and 35.7% from beyond the arc. Despite falling behind by five in the fourth quarter, the Cavs picked up the intensity and throttled the Suns even more in the fourth quarter. During those 12 gutsy fourth-quarter minutes, Cleveland limited the Suns to 24 points, shooting 8-of-23 (34.8%) and 2-of-6 (33%) from deep.
The Cavs won the decisive fourth, 31-24.
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It was an overwhelming result for Mitchell, who scored 71 points during Monday’s overtime win against Chicago, becoming just the seventh player in NBA history to join that exclusive club. Exhausted physically and mentally while being hounded by the Suns all night, Mitchell scored just 20 points on 6 of 20 from the field and 3 of 12 from deep in 36 minutes.
“I really didn’t have the legs tonight,” he said. “I was trying to make a wish just to be solid.”
The superstar saved his best for last, hitting a clutch 3-pointer with 40 seconds left that gave the Cavs an 88-85 lead — their first lead of the second half. But Suns shooting guard Landry Shamet responded, tying the game at 88 apiece.
On the ensuing possession, Mitchell drove left from the lane with the clock running out and found junior Evan Mobley for a 14-footer.
Like many other games this season, Cleveland needed a stop. I understand. Again. Mitchell, who correctly predicted the Suns’ final play, upset Suns kicker Mikal Bridges enough to force a fumble at the buzzer. Mitchell grabbed the rebound and fired the ball into the end zone in celebration as the NBA’s top defensive team showed up once again.
Bridges was just 3 of 15 shooting Monday night. The Suns were without Devin Booker, who remains sidelined with a groin strain. Phoenix also lost backup guard Cameron Payne in the first half. Payne was unable to finish due to a leg injury. Veteran pitcher Chris Paul tried to bounce back for balanced Phoenix, which had all five starters score in double figures. Paul finished with a game-high 25.
Returning from a two-game absence due to a sore right ankle, Mobley said after the game that he couldn’t remember the last time he hit a game-winning shot. He will never forget this.
“I thought maybe they were going to send a double or go to Donovan because he gets a lot of attention and he’s supposed to make the last play and stuff like that,” Mobley said. “I was just making myself available, got on top and knocked down the shot.
“Hopefully more to come.”
The 21-year-old Rookie of the Year runner-up was just 1 of 8 from the floor before making the biggest shot of his young career. He finished with six points and eight rebounds.
“I was in the moment and I made the shot,” Mobley said of the jumper. “I was just trying to tell myself to calm down because we had a few seconds left in the game. We still needed to make another stop to steal the win.”
Caris LeVert led the way for the Cavs, who trailed for nearly 41 minutes Wednesday night. He scored 21 points, including nine of his team-first 11 to open the fourth quarter, which sent shockwaves through the crowd and sparked a rally.
Little-used backup guard Raul Neto scored 14, providing a second-half spark with solid play and timely shooting.
“Extremely influential,” Bickerstaff said of Neto. “His ability to get guys full court, get deflections, move his feet, keep people in front of him, be disruptive. Then again, there were times when we were struggling offensively where he found a way to get a bucket. He was huge for us.”
Cedi Osman added 12, as Cleveland’s bench finished the game 34-14.
Darius Garland missed his third straight game with a sprained right thumb — an absence that again played into Cleveland’s stuttering offense throughout.
Before the game, Bickerstaff called the emotional hangover a “real thing.” He knew after a forgettable Monday that the Cavs would need a win.
At various points it looked like they had gone from the highest to the lowest of the low — in just 48 hours.
It could have been ugly. But that’s the way the stingy Cavs like it. A win is a win.
“I wish we could win every game by 20 points,” Bickerstaff said. “But the competition to do all the little things over and over, to accept individual challenges, to accept team challenges, to give it up and fight for it, that’s the purity of competition. If you have that courage, you can find a way to achieve it.”
The next one
The Cavs begin their longest road trip remaining this season. It starts with a game against the Denver Nuggets on Friday night. Tipoff is set for 9:00 p.m
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