PHOENIX (AP) – Donovan Mitchell doesn’t have to score 71 points in a game for the Cleveland Cavaliers to be at their best.
On Sunday, he didn’t even have to be on the floor.
Mitchell and Darius Garland both scored 22 points to lead the Cavaliers, but it was a few bench players who helped Cleveland pull away in the fourth quarter and beat the banged-up Phoenix Suns 112-98.
“It’s one of the best things to see, because it’s different guys from different areas,” said Mitchell, who scored 71 points in a win over the Bulls last Monday. “It’s all defence. The effort, the intensity.”
The Cavaliers won for the fourth time in five games. It’s the second time this week the Cavs have topped the Suns after beating them 90-88 last Wednesday.
Struggling Phoenix – playing without its All-Star backcourt of Chris Paul and Devin Booker – has dropped six in a row and nine of 10. The Suns now have a 20-21 record, which is the first time they have been under .500 all season.
The offensively challenged Suns failed to top 100 points for a fourth straight game.
“We just stayed the course as best we could, then we got into the fourth and we just didn’t have enough to withstand their defensive pressure,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “They kept us on our heels.”
The Cavaliers had a comfortable lead for much of the game but the Suns cut their advantage to 80-79 lead heading into the final quarter. But a group of mostly reserves, led by Raul Neto and Lamar Stevens, helped Cleveland go on a 27-6 run to start the fourth and suck any drama out of the final minutes.
All five Cleveland starters scored in double figures along with Caris LeVert, who added 13 points off the bench.
Duane Washington led the Suns with 25 points off the bench. Mikal Bridges scored 15 and Deandre Ayton added 14. Ayton appeared to tweak his left ankle late in the game and gingerly walked off the court.
He said it was probably a day-to-day injury.
“We just lost a little bit of focus tonight in that fourth quarter,” Ayton said.
Cleveland used a 14-0 run to take a 35-26 lead by the end of the first quarter. The Cavs led 57-54 at the break after shooting 60 per cent from the field.