Dribbles: Sam Merrill, Cavs Lite come out firing, moving ball, scrapping way to another win

CLEVELAND — Random dribbles from the Cavaliers’ 124-116 home win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.Sam Merrill and Caris LeVert

1. Some dreams do come true. That’s really been the story of the Cavs over the past two games, and more specifically, for fourth-year guard Sam Merrill.

2. At one point this season, Merrill asked coach J.B. Bickerstaff for a meeting. Merrill wanted to check in, see if there was anything more that he could do. It wasn’t a complaint or out of frustration, Merrill said. He just wanted some extra feedback.

3. Bickerstaff told him to keep getting after it, adding that Merrill’s time would come.

4. Well, that time has arrived, and in a big way. Anyone who saw Merrill light up the Jazz to the tune of 27 points already knows that.

5. Merrill grew up in Salt Lake City, and as he said, it’s not exactly a breeding ground for future NBA players. While playing in high school he never envisioned making it to the NBA.

6. No one asked if he thought he would lead a Cavs team with Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland in scoring for a night. Of course, Mitchell (sick) and Garland (jaw) didn’t play — opening the door for Merrill, and he again delivered, one game after scoring a career-high 19. 

7. Merrill used to play in pickup games with Mitchell when Mitchell was with the Jazz and Merrill was playing for Utah State. He has credited Mitchell and the rest of his teammates (and Bickerstaff) with helping him feel more comfortable in Cleveland today.

8. Forever humble, Merrill has said he doesn’t really like being in the spotlight. But hey, he’ll take it. “We all work too hard not to enjoy moments like this,” he said Wednesday.

9. Merrill buried a 3-pointer to beat the first-quarter buzzer, then made a floater in the lane to beat the buzzer at halftime. Anytime the Cavs needed a bucket, there he was.

10. Of course, as promising as Merrill has become, the Cavs (16-12) again displayed their depth in winning their third straight. That’s been an underrated part of all these injuries. The other guys are getting valuable time.

11. Caris LeVert scored 23 points and passed for a team-high seven assists. That’s 50 points off the bench — Merrill and LeVert — right there.

12. But wait. There’s more.

13. Georges Niang added 15 points in reserve, and Tristan Thompson was brilliant with 10 points, five rebounds, four assists, four steals, and tons of energy and leadership. Those are your four bench players. 

14. The starters weren’t bad, either. Max Strus scored 18, including nine in about a minute, again coming to life in the second half. Jarrett Allen went for 17 points and eight rebounds. And while rookie Craig Porter Jr. (six points), Isaac Okoro (five) and Dean Wade (three) didn’t score much they all contributed in their own way. Mostly by crashing the glass, defending and making the hustle plays.

15. Bickerstaff on the win: “It speaks to the character of these guys and their willingness to sacrifice for the greater good.”

16. Back to Merrill. This was mostly a tight game throughout, which was to be expected without Mitchell, Garland and Evan Mobley (knee). But the Cavs started to give themselves some separation with a 17-2 run to open the fourth quarter — spurned by three threes from (you guessed it) Merrill.

17. Overall, Merrill finished 9-of-16 from the field, including 8-of-14 beyond the arc in a career-high 30 minutes. “I grew up in Utah so I was a huge Jazz fan growing up,” he said. “So that makes this one special.”

18. Or how about this stat — the Cavs attempted a whopping 51 threes, making 23 (for 45 percent). Not surprisingly, the attempts and makes are season-highs. It actually makes sense, though. When you’re without some of your biggest guns, you gotta improvise.

19. Former Cavs Lauri Markkanen and Collin Sexton led the Jazz (10-18) with 26 and 20 points, respectively. Sexton received a decent round of applause when introduced before the game and showed Cleveland fans some love after a short tribute video. Ochai Agbaji, also part of the Mitchell trade with Utah, scored three points in 16 minutes.

20. But as I always write after losses, the Cavs will need to forget about this one quickly, as former Cavs GM David Griffin and his New Orleans Pelicans are in town on Thursday. It’s too soon to know if Mitchell will feel well enough to play. Zion Williamson, Herb Jones and Jonas Valanciunas are all also sick and listed as questionable.

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