CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Cleveland Cavaliers shook their emotional hangover just in time.
Two nights after Donovan Mitchell’s historic performance, Cleveland looked spent and listless for most of the game. But as they have done throughout the season, the Cavs kept battling and found a way in the fourth quarter, beating the fading Phoenix Suns, 90-88. Phoenix has lost four straight and seven of the last eight. Cleveland has now won three consecutive.
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The Cavs missed nine shots in a row to open the game. They didn’t make their first field goal until the 5:38 mark of the opening quarter. They went 0 of 14 from 3-point range to start. Mustered just 33 points on 28.9% shooting and 15.8% from 3-point range in a hideous first half — their lowest scoring half all season.
While the offense picked it 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 obviously was struggling, we didn’t give into that,” Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff said following the win. “We gave ourselves a chance because we continued 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 trailing by five heading into the fourth quarter, the Cavs picked up the intensity and stifled the short-handed Suns even more in the fourth. Over those 12 gutty 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 underwhelming encore for Mitchell, who scored a franchise-high 71 points during Monday’s overtime win against Chicago, becoming just the seventh player in NBA history to join that exclusive club. Physically and mentally worn down, while also being hounded by the Suns all night, Mitchell tallied just 20 points on 6 of 20 from the field and 3 of 12 from deep in 36 minutes.
“I really didn’t have my legs tonight,” he said. “I was trying to will myself just to be solid.”
The superstar saved his best for last, hitting a clutch 3-pointer with 40 seconds remaining that gave the Cavs an 88-85 lead — their first lead of the second half. But Suns shooting guard Landry Shamet answered, tying the game at 88 apiece.
On the ensuing possession, Mitchell drove left of the lane with the clock winding down and found youngster Evan Mobley for the go-ahead 14-footer.
Like so many other games this season, Cleveland needed one stop. It got it. Again. Mitchell, who correctly predicted the Suns’ final play, bothered Suns swingman Mikal Bridges just enough to force a miss at the buzzer. Mitchell nabbed the rebound and fired the ball to the other end in celebration as the NBA’s top defensive team showed up once more.
Bridges was just 3 of 15 shooting Monday night. The Suns were without Devin Booker, who remains sidelined by a groin strain. Phoenix also lost backup guard Cameron Payne in the first half. Payne was unable to finish because of a foot injury. Veteran point guard Chris Paul tried to pick up the slack 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 right ankle soreness, Mobley said after the game that he couldn’t remember the last time he made a winning shot. He’ll never forget this one.
“I figured they were probably going to send a double or they were going to go to Donovan because he draws 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, came over the 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 splashing the biggest shot of his young career. He finished with six points and eight rebounds.
“I was just in the moment and made the shot,” Mobley said about the jumper. “I was just trying to tell myself to calm down because we still had a few seconds left to play in the game. We still needed to get 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 the team’s first 11 to open the fourth quarter, which sent a jolt into the crowd and fueled the rally.
Little-used reserve guard Raul Neto chipped in with 14, providing a second-half spark with scrappy hustle plays and timely shot-making.
“Extremely impactful,” Bickerstaff said of Neto. “His ability to pick guys up full court, get deflections, move his feet, keep people in front of him, be disruptive. Then again, there were times where 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 with a 34-14 scoring edge.
Darius Garland missed his third consecutive game with a sprained right thumb — an absence that once again played part in Cleveland’s mucky offense throughout.
Prior to the game, Bickerstaff called the emotional hangover a “real thing.” He knew after a memorable Monday that the Cavs would have to gut out a win.
At various points it seemed like they were headed from the highest of the high to the lowest of the low — in just 48 hours.
It might’ve been ugly. But that’s the way the stingy Cavs like it. A win is a win.
“I wish every game we could win by 20 points,” Bickerstaff said. “But the competition of having to do all the little things over and over again, having to accept individual challenges, having to accept team challenges, having to scrap and fight for it, that’s the purity of competition. If you have that fortitude, you can find a way to get it done.”
The Cavs begin their longest road trip remaining this season. It starts with a matchup against the Denver Nuggets on Friday night. Tipoff is set for 9 pm
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