The Cleveland Charge fought back from a 9 point first half deficit to defeat the Windy City Bulls 114-108 without the services of Isaiah Mobley who made the trip to Texas with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Two-way big Mamadi Diakite came out strong. He opened the scoring by thundering home a dunk off the opening tip and following it up with a three on the next possession.
Unfortunately that wouldn’t be a harbinger of things to come. He had a tough time staying out of foul trouble and keeping possession of the ball as he finished with 5 fouls and 6 turnovers.
Fouls have been a point of concern for Diakite throughout his NBA career. This has been an issue when he’s been up with the Cavs (is fouling on 6.6% of defensive possessions and committing 4.8 personals per 36 minutes) and was again tonight.
The scoring was however there, as Diakite contributed 21 points on 10-16 shooting which included hitting 1 of his 2 threes in just 32 minutes.
The Charge as a team were out of sorts in the first half as they fell behind by nine. Turnovers, and the 18 points the Bulls were able to get off them, were why they found themselves in that deficit.
Cleveland was a different team in the second half thanks to Sam Merrill and Sharife Cooper who were on fire down the stretch. Merrill seemingly couldn’t miss from distance as he canned 7 of his 9 three-point attempts on the evening. Cooper scored 27 of his 30 points in the second half to go along with 17 assists on the evening.
Coming through in the clutch has become a theme for Cooper this season as noticed by teammate Nate Hinton.
“He has that on button. We ride with him,” said Hinton afterwards when asked about Merrill. “When someone has the hot hand we feed them. So in the clutch he does a great job of finishing as well as passing and assisting. He just has that it factor! A lot of guys in the G League don’t have that and he’s had that since forever. He’s talented enough to bring us home every time we need him too.”
Hinton ended the game with 12 points on 4-7 shooting from deep with 5 boards, 3 steals and an assist. The box score isn’t impressive, but it doesn’t tell the full story as was the case tonight.
One of those sequences that stood out came at the end of the third. Cleveland grabbed the lead for the first time since the opening minutes with 2 minutes remaining in the quarter. Windy City responded by taking the lead back. Just as the momentum appeared to be heading in the other direction, Hinton was able to come down with a clutch offensive rebound keeping their last possession of the quarter alive. He followed that up by providing weak side help at the rim. He slowed the ball handler down enough to allow Jamorko Pickett to swoop in for the easy block over the top.
Being able to close the quarter strong like they did helped the Charge keep the momentum and ultimately win the game. It’s the type of stuff Hinton does time and time again throughout the course of the game.
“I don’t know,” Hinton says while laughing when asked to describe his game. “Lately I’m not gonna lie. I don’t know how to describe my game.
“I just go out there and play my game. All I try to do is win. Winners win. I’ve been doing these type of plays since college, high school, and middle school. It’s my nature. As competition and talent level goes up, I rise to the occasion. It’s just an opportunity to go out there and compete. I get lost in the competition of the game. Trying to dominate, trying to put the work in and be the best. I’m just relentless.”
The win guarantees a spot for the Charge in the Showcase Cup in Las Vegas. This is one of the best opportunities the G League has for displaying what guys like Hinton, who aren’t on a two-way contract, can provide for an NBA team.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity,” says Hinton when asked about what he hopes to prove individually and as a team during the Showcase. “To have all the scouts and the GMs there [is huge]. Some teams just see the box score. Now they’ll have an opportunity to have eyes on me and see my impact.
“Sometimes seeing the game through the TV, you can feel it. But then when you’re in the gym it’s like, ‘nah it’s a different feeling.’ When you see play after play after play you can see the ripple effect. Other guys get going. Now you’re worrying about a defensive play and someone like Sharife comes down and lays it up. Now we’re coming in waves!”
Hinton isn’t the perfect prospect and he knows that. There’s room for improvement, especially handling and finishing inside, as it’s tough for someone to be a three-and-d wing at 6’5” to make it to the next level.
“I’m getting better. I’m working on my finishes. I’m working on my handle. Knocking down my three ball. Those are just extra, just gravy. The meat and potatoes are defending, being a dog, being energetic and making winning plays. Everything else will take care of itself.”
He and his teammates will have their chance to showcase what they can do net week in Vegas.
Up next: First, the Charge wrap up this portion of their schedule on Thursday, Dec. 15 when they travel to take on the Iowa Wolves.