Cavaliers stun Raptors 126-101
Sexton scores 28 
BY STONE LEXINGTON
CAVALIERS BEAT WRITER
(CLEVELAND, OH) - When it became apparent that the Cleveland Cavaliers wouldn’t be competing for a playoff spot this season before 2019 even arrived, team priorities shifted to other areas. One of those priorities is the development of 2018 lottery pick Collin Sexton.

Sexton has been somewhat of a polarizing player this season, as fans and pundits have had trouble assessing his rookie year. He has had low and high moments, experiencing the growing pains NBA rookies are accustomed to. One ting that is undeniable is that Sexton seems to be taking his All-Star Weekend Rising Stars snub personally.

Sexton wasn’t selected to the game that features the NBA’s best first- and second-year players, and he has played well since the teams were announced on January 29. Since the announcement, Sexton has averaged better than 18 points per game, and Cavs head coach Larry Drew thinks the snub could have a positive impact on the rookie.

“I think so,” Drew said. “Being a young player, if you have set goals for yourself and you don’t make them, that can be motivation and I’m hoping him not being selected, I’m hoping that’s motivation for him moving forward because he certainly deserved strong consideration.”

Sexton kept up his solid play against the contending Toronto Raptors on Monday night at Quicken Loans Arena, posting 28 points, four rebounds and five assists en route to a dominating and shocking 126-101 Cavs victory. The win was Cleveland’s largest of the season.

The Cavs (17-50) played the favored Raptors tough throughout the evening behind Sexton’s solid play. Taking a 25-24 Cavs lead into the second quarter, Sexton secured the team’s largest advantage of the first half when he sank a layup that gave Cleveland a 46-36 lead with 5:53 to play until halftime. Sexton scored 13 points in the first half, helping the Cavs take a 59-55 lead into halftime. He was only getting started.

Sexton scored 10 more points in the third quarter that helped Cleveland extend its lead to a 91-77 advantage heading into the fourth, their largest to that point. The momentum had been built, and Cleveland only pulled away from the Raptors in the fourth quarter. When Cavs forward Cedi Osman converted a layup plus the foul with 6:27 to play in regulation, Cleveland’s lead grew to 20 points, 108-88, and the route was on.

“The thing that really impresses me the most about this Toronto team is defensively, how they really get after you,” Drew said. “They’ve got some guys that are big and strong and long and athletic. They can make it really tough, particularly if you don’t move the basketball.”

The Cavs had no problem moving the basketball against Toronto’s defense in one of the more surprising outcomes near the end of the regular season.

Although the Alabama collegiate point guard ranks fourth among rookies in assists in his first season as a pro, his 2.9 assists per game average has some concerned.

“One of the knocks on him when he came here was the fact that he was just a scorer,” Drew said. “He has shown the ability to score, now he has to get better in that area as far being able to make plays. And when I say make plays, I’m talking about making plays to where he’s getting other people shots.

“I think with his style and the way his game is, I think he can really be good at it because he has speed and he has quickness and he can break the defense down and he can get into the interior of the defense. And now, once you get into the interior of the defense, it’s a matter of making the right play. For him when he gets in there, he feels he has to score, and that’s just who he is. That’s not a knock against him, but that’s what he did when he was at Alabama. He got into the paint and everything was score.

“In our league, because guys are much longer, much bigger, much more athletic, when you get in there, you’re going to have those opportunities. But you also have to recognize when other people are open on the perimeter, and that’s what we continue to show him day in and day out on film. Once he understands that, he’s going to realize how much easier that’s going to make his life, because now when he gets in there, everybody knows that he’s just not in there to score, but he’s a willing passer. So that’s what we’ll continue to teach him, and I think he’s getting better at it.”

In last Friday’s game against the Miami Heat, Sexton passed former Cavaliers superstar Kyrie Irving (73 in 2011-12) for the most three-pointers made in a single season by a Cavs rookie. Keep in mind, though, that Irving played in only 51 games in his rookie season, while it took Sexton 66 games to achieve the feat.

Durability, however, may be on Sexton’s side, as the point guard has not missed a game this season. Entering Monday, Sexton ranked fourth among all rookies in points per game (15.2), first in free throw percentage among rookies with at least 100 attempts (83 percent), third in three-point percentage among rookies with at least 100 attempts (38.8) and second in total minutes played.

“He’s been up and down,” Drew said. “I do see areas of growth as far as mistakes, but he still has to put together the consistency as far as constantly being in a certain situation of understanding that situation. He hasn’t gotten there yet, but I do see a lot of improvement and it’s something that we just continue to harp on as far as, at that position being a point guard, there’s a lot of responsibility.

“He has to wear a lot of hats, and a big part of that is understanding his teammates, knowing his teammates, knowing when to get a certain guy the ball, who to get the ball to, if a guy has a hot hand, what plays to call, being able to recognize different situations as far as how teams are defending him. We continue to try to teach him and continue to show him on film and continue to harp on it, because a big part of his growth process is going to be not putting himself in a certain position, and I think that’s what happens in more cases than not, where he puts himself in a certain position and sometimes good things happen and sometimes they don’t. Some of these things he can just totally avoid.”

One thing Drew wants Sexton to work on more is being more vocal, something most rookies naturally struggle with due to inexperience.

“At the point guard spot, it helps if you’re vocal because you’ve got to be an extension of that coach out on the floor and some guys are just quiet by nature,” Drew said. “But we talk to Collin a lot about just being vocal out there. I really do see improvement, particularly during the games, where he’s out there talking.

“I’m calling play and he may come over there and say ‘coach, what about this?’, which is something he was not doing earlier in the season. So, I really do see growth in that area, but I’ll continue to harp on him about just being more vocal, particularly with his teammates.”

Sexton and the Cavs will look for their second straight win on Tuesday in Philadelphia against the 76ers.
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​POSTED 03/11/2019 21:27
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