When it was announced that Darius Garland, and Evan Mobley would be out for an extended period, the message around the Cleveland Cavaliers was this: stay together. Through two games, they have done just that as the Cavs earned a gritty 135-130 overtime victory against the Houston Rockets Monday night.
As expected, Donovan Mitchell led the way with an electrifying 37 points, being the superstar the Cavs are going to need over this stretch. However, he was not the story of this game. The Cavs had eight guys score in double figures, including little-used Sam Merrill. Merrill had a career game with 19 points and five three-pointers in 24 minutes of action.
Coming in, Merrill was averaging less than 10 minutes a game, and he gave the Cavs a much-needed shot in the arm to finish the game with a dagger three-pointer in overtime. It was a gritty win for the Cavs, and their second one in a row during this four-game homestand. They became Houston's problem.
With that said, there was a lot to take away from this one. Here are my three takeaways from this Cavaliers W.
Takeaway No. 1: The bench
Head coachJ.B. Bickerstaff gushed about his depth at the start of the year outside of his starting lineup. The Cavs were expected to have a much improved bench unit, but for most of the year, that has not been the case. Coming into the matchup with the Rockets, the Cavs were 28th in the NBA in bench scoring at 29.6 points per game. Only the Phoenix Suns and Philadelphia 76ers are worse.
Well, you could not tell against the Rockets. The Cavs got a season-high 48 points from their bench, and it was the second game in a row in which the bench unit scored at least 35 points. They may be a bottom-three bench-scoring unit, but they stepped up when it mattered most.
The Cavs got those 19 huge points from Merrill, but Caris LeVert had 12 of his own, and Georges Niang had 10. Tristan Thompson only had four points, but his high energy and impact were key on a night where Jarrett Allen was battling foul trouble. Only the Hack-a-Tristan strategy from the Rockets could keep Thompson off the floor.
It was refreshing to see the bench come in with high energy, and explode the way it did. The Cavs went 10 deep against the Rockets, and while it is a very small sample size, it should give the Wine and Gold comfort that they have guys they can rely on beyond the starting lineup.