CLEVELAND — On Wednesday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers took on the newly assembled superteam in Brooklyn. The Nets debuted their big three of Kevin Durant, James Harden and former Cavalier Kyrie Irving, who all took the court together for the first time since trading for Harden.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers, who have played scrappy all season long, debuted two players of their own acquired in that same trade—Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince.
And while Allen and Prince definitely made names for themselves in Cleveland in their debut with their new team, it was Collin Sexton who stole the show.
Not today, Nets
The Cavaliers came out hot against the Nets, leading at halftime with Sexton and Cedi Osman notching 11 points and 16 points, respectively.
The Nets outscored the Cavs in the second half though and got back into things, tying the game with just over a minute to go. After a questionably reversed offensive foul on Irving (he hit Sexton in the mouth while attempting to drive to the hoop), regulation came to an end—but that’s when Sexton truly came alive.
Brooklyn took an early lead in overtime, thanks to the shooting of Irving and Durant, but Larry Nance Jr. hit a three-pointer to tie things up again. An unexpected clutch three from Nets’ Jeff Green gave Brooklyn the lead back with less than 30 seconds to go, but Sexton wasn’t going down like that.
Sexton, who was drafted by the Cavaliers in 2018 with a pick acquired in the Irving trade to Boston, pulled the signature Irving move, nailing a highly contested three over his defender—who just so happened to be Irving. With 1.2 seconds on the clock, Sexton, wearing Irving’s No. 2 from his time on the Cavs (and while wearing his signature shoes), hit the shot over Irving to send it into double overtime.
And from there, Sexton exploded.
After missing three free throws to start OT2, Sexton could not miss—literally.
A 29-foot three point jumper—make. A nine foot fadeaway—make. A 26-foot jumper—make. A 27-foot jumper—make.
Back to back to back to back Sexton caught fire and could not be contained.
With the help of new teammate Price, the Cavs continued scoring and extended their lead over the Nets until the end of double overtime, winning in a thrilling 147-135 contest.
Sexton’s lights out shooting
In Wednesday’s unforgettable game, Sexton put up 42 points, 15 of which came in OT2 alone, with five rebounds and five assists.
“The Young Bull” took the game into his own hands, put the team on his back and led the Cavaliers to a victory over one of the league’s most lethal teams.
Even with Durant and Irving both scoring nearly 40 points and Harden with a triple-double—the Nets could not overcome the Sexton-led Cavaliers.
Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said he let Sexton ride during both overtimes because Sexton had a plan and was executing it almost flawlessly.
“In that moment I left him alone,” Bickerstaff said. “He had a plan in place and he was carrying out his plan He was taking what the defense was giving him and then he was creating opportunities on his own so I felt like he had a good feel for the game, he had a rhythm—there was no need for me to step in the way and mess him up.”
Sexton said that despite getting off to a bit of a rocky start to start the game, his teammates encouraged him to keep pushing and his shot would fall, he just had to trust himself and stay ready.
“Tonight, I pretty much just stayed ready. Listened to my teammates and coaches and just fed off them the entire game,” Sexton said.
While the Cavaliers were still out Kevin Love and Darius Garland, Sexton’s return gave some health back to the roster after he had missed several games with an ankle injury.
“This win tonight showed when we're all fully healthy and we're all back, we can do a lot,” Sexton said.
While one performance obviously can’t define a player in their entirety, Wednesday night was a testament to the importance of Sexton and the skills he possesses.
Sexton is averaging 27.0 points per game, 53.4% shooting and 50.0% from the three. He is thriving in the role he belongs in—a bucket-getting explosive scorer.
What Sexton was missing last season was an offense to surround him and supplement his style of play. Now with defense a strength in Cleveland thanks to the additions of Andre Drummond, JaVale McGee and now Allen, the Cavaliers are becoming more of a well-rounded team that is able to win games—even against a star-studded team like the Nets.
And Sexton is only getting better, improving his shot selections from his rookie year and even sophomore year. From averaging 16.7 points his rookie year, to 20.8 points his second year in the league to the now 27 points he’s averaging this season, he just keeps growing.
His efficiency is improving as well, going from a 43% shooting average his rookie year to now shooting 53.4%, while boosting his 3-point percentage 10% higher this season compared to his first year in the league.
Sexton is working his way to be an All-Star caliber player in the NBA, despite all the criticism from both pundits and fans and despite all the snubs he’s received (see the Rising Stars debacle and, more recently, Bleacher Report’s top 100 players list.)
"He definitely impressed us all,” Bickerstaff said after Wednesday night’s win. “You think about a kid who hasn’t played in a while, but what Collin has proven time and time again, against all his doubters, is that he is not afraid of the big moments. He likes pressure-filled moments.
“Not everybody in our league had the courage to do what he did tonight. Not everyone in our league has the ability to do what he did tonight. Give the entire team credit for their resilience and staying in it through some difficult times, but Collin Sexton brought us home tonight. People can say what they want to say about him but there’s a small group of guys in this league that can do what he did tonight.”
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.