CLEVELAND, Ohio – Finally.
After a month of misery, the Cleveland Cavaliers had reason to celebrate, ending their 10-game losing streak by beating the Atlanta Hawks, 112-111. It was an unlikely hero who delivered the perfect moment that he so badly needed.
Undrafted rookie Lamar Stevens, who plays on a two-way deal and struggles to prove he belongs in the league, spoke less than a week ago about not having his trademark NBA moment. Forget it. You now have one. A game-winning dunk with 4.1 seconds left, preventing the Cavaliers from wasting a 13-point lead in the first half, rebounding from a five-point deficit with three minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Darius Garland’s costly fumble with about 30 seconds left seemed like the crushing mistake the Cavs couldn’t overcome. But Trae Young was bullied down the sideline near Cleveland’s bench, forcing the Hawks to call their final time out and giving JB Bickerstaff a chance to make a late offensive-defensive substitution, calling Stevens.
After the brief interruption, Young missed one of his patented floats, Stevens picked up the rebound, quickly threw the ball to Collin Sexton and ran onto the court. Sexton started, drew multiple defenders and passed Stevens for an undisputed driving dunk. Outside of timeouts, the Hawks circled before the clock expired.
Stevens the mate. Sexton, who called Tuesday’s matchup a must-win game, attendance. The way the Cavs wrote it, right?
Hey, whatever it takes.
“The best part of that game is when you go up and down on the stat sheet, literally everyone who played contributed to winning that game,” Bickerstaff said. “That’s what made it even better and even sweeter, although everyone tastes sweet right now.”
Not chosen as an NBA All-Star hours earlier, Sexton scored 29 points on 9 of 16 shooting and 3 of 5 from 3-point range to go with five assists. Garland contributed 17 and eight helpers. Dylan Windler came off the bench, pouring 15 points on a perfect 5 of 5 from deep. Stevens had eight points, none bigger than the bucket that led to him being bullied by his teammates all the way to the tunnel leading to the locker room.
“He has earned the respect of the coaching staff and his teammates,” Bickerstaff said. “Every minute he receives is deserved and I think that’s the most important thing. They are not handing you anything. They didn’t deliver anything to him at the beginning of the year. He worked hard to show that he earned it and that he deserved it. I think that’s why he’s being rewarded for it. “
At one point during the game, teammates Kevin Love and Larry Nance Jr. playfully battled on the sidelines. It was that kind of night. Both injured power forward, who could have been on the ground in Stevens’s place, exploded when Stevens threw his dunk. They were quicker to greet the young man once the doorbell rang.
The Cavs have repeatedly walked off the court with gloomy looks recently. That finally changed on Tuesday night. The eruption of joy took 22 long days to develop.
Matthew Dellavedova, who has not played this season due to a severe concussion and recently underwent an appendectomy, was on the bench for the first time. Dellavedova, still walking a bit cautiously, gave advice to Cleveland’s young guards throughout the game and celebrated on the sidelines.
Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins, who was hit hard to the head in the first half, was replaced by Danilo Gallinari early in the third quarter. Collins was ruled out for a concussion evaluation. He finished with 13 points on 5 of 6 shooting to go with three rebounds and one assist in 13 minutes.
Until next time
The Cavs will end their home run Wednesday night, playing the Houston Rockets on the second night of a back-to-back. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 pm
New Cavs face masks for sale: This is where you can buy Cleveland Cavaliers-themed face covers for coronavirus protection, including a single mask ($ 14.99) and a 3-pack ($ 24.99). All NBA profits were donated to charities.
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