Merrill scores career-high 27 to lift Cavs over Jazz
CLEVELAND (AP) — Sam Merrill set career highs with 27 points and eight 3-pointers off the bench, Caris LeVert scored 23 points, and the short-handed Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Utah Jazz 124-116 on Wednesday night.
Merrill buried three 3-pointers during a 17-2 run to open the fourth quarter, giving Cleveland its largest lead at 109-95. He finished 9 of 16 from the field, including 8 of 14 beyond the arc, and 1 of 2 from the foul line in a career-best 30 minutes.
A fourth-year pro from Utah State, Merrill had set career highs of 19 points and five 3s in a 135-130 overtime win over Houston on Monday.
“I grew up as a Jazz fan in Utah, so to be able to have a game like this against them is even more special,” Merrill said. “To do that while we’re winning games, that’s what you dream about as a kid. You’ve got to enjoy these moments, for sure.”
Cavaliers shooting guard Donovan Mitchell sat out the game against his former team with an illness. The four-time All-Star, who is averaging 27.7 points, spent his first five seasons with Utah before being traded on Sept. 1, 2022.
“This isn’t going to be a ‘one person lifts us up’ situation, and I thought our guys have done a phenomenal job picking up the slack,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “It speaks to the character of these guys and their willingness to sacrifice.”
Max Strus scored 18 points on six 3-pointers and Jarrett Allen had 17 points and eight rebounds for Cleveland, which made 23 3-pointers on a franchise-record 51 attempts. The Cavaliers are 3-0 on a four-game homestand since losing Mobley and Garland.
Lauri Markkanen had 26 points and 10 rebounds, Collin Sexton scored 20 points, and Talen Horton-Tucker had 19 points and tied his career high with 11 assists for the Jazz. Utah is 2-13 on the road and will not return home until Dec. 30 against Miami.
Markkanen, Sexton and Ochai Agbaji were acquired by the Jazz in exchange for Mitchell, along with three first-round draft picks and multiple second-round selections.
“Me and Lauri wanted to win this game so bad,” said Sexton, who received a warm ovation in his first game back in Cleveland. “It definitely felt good how the fans reacted, knowing this is where I came from and how much the community means to me.”
Merrill buried five 3-pointers and had 17 points in the first half as Cleveland took a 62-56 lead into the break. Neither team was ahead by more than nine points until the final quarter.
“Every one of us really believed we could still make a run at the end,” Markkanen said. “They just shot the ball really well from three. Once a team makes a couple in a row, they start feeling good and it’s very hard to stop them.”
Jazz: Visit Detroit on Thursday night.
Cavaliers: Host New Orleans on Thursday night.
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