The Cleveland Charge snapped their six-game losing streak as they defeated the Wisconsin Herd 128-120.
The Charge received much needed reinforcements with Sharife Cooper and Mamadi Diakite returning to the lineup. Cooper has only played one game since initially hurting his ankle on January 24 against the College Park Skyhawks. Since Cooper’s initial injury, the Charge have lost six of seven games while posing a 104.7 offensive rating which is second worst in that stretch behind only the G League Ignite. Like their parent club, the Charge are a defensive first team. But a defensive first philosophy can only take you so far when you don’t have consistent sources of offenses. Cooper helped get them back on the right track on Wednesday.
The reigning G League player of the month got off to a slow start. He didn’t attempt a shot in the first quarter while turning it over on Cleveland’s first possession of the game. Things started to turn around in the second quarter as he opened the scoring for the Charge with a fastbreak layup off an assist from Rashad Vaughn. He followed that up with a three on the next possession.
The Charge used that spark to open things up in the second quarter. They repeatedly turned defense into into easy offense in transition as they converted a poor first quarter into a 15-point lead midway through the second quarter.
Cleveland entered the fourth with a 10-point advantage. Sam Merrill made sure things stayed that way as he knocked down three triples to open the quarter to give the Charge a lead they never looked back from.
“I was just able to find spots,” said Merrill afterwards when asked about his fourth quarter explosion. “At the end of the day I’m a shooter. It’s helpful when I have guys who can screen and find me. In that stretch in the fourth quarter Gabe [Osabuohien] was great. He was looking for me, setting screens for me. I was able to get loose a couple times.”
Like Cooper and Isaiah Mobley, the Charge have been without Merrill for much of this recent losing streak as he went down with a concussion after their win on January 25. The road back hasn’t been easy for him.
“It’s tough with a head injury.” recalled Merrill. “You have to be careful about workouts. I didn’t do a whole lot the two weeks I was out. I definitely had to work to get my legs back. Those couple games in Maine [on a minutes restriction], I was just trying to get my legs and my rhythm back.”
Merrill concluded the evening with 20 points on 6-10 shooting from three with 2 assists and a steal.
Cooper made a concerted effort to get his teammates involved throughout the night. Almost to his own detriment. He forced a few passes that weren’t there and left his feet on drives leading to unnecessary turnovers.
Overall, Cooper was still the Charge’s most dynamic player and the catalyst behind their best offensive bursts. As has been the case repeatedly throughout the season, Cooper was able to close the game out with some timely buckets and assists down the stretch to put the game out of reach. He finished the evening with 17 points on 6-9 shooting with 5 assists and 5 turnovers.
As mentioned earlier, Diakite was also back and making a rare appearance with the Charge. This was only his 12th outing and 3rd within the calendar month. Given his infrequent game action, it wasn’t surprising that he looked sloppy out of the gates. Diakite picked up turnovers on consecutive possessions at the beginning of the game and followed it up with a technical foul shortly after.
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ two-way big was able to settle down and play a solid game. Diakite was the best defensive player on the floor keeping opposing center Paris Bass, who was fresh off a 50-point game, in check as he was held to just 18 points on 6-14 shooting.
Offensively, Diakite was able to get wherever he wanted on the floor. The Herd didn’t have anyone able to match his athleticism and physicality. Diakite capitalized on this with plays like the one below, but it felt like he left a lot out there as he compiled 6 turnovers, most of which were careless or loss of concentration induced. Diakite concluded the evening with 23 points on 10-18 shooting which included going 1-6 from distance. He also contributed 18 boards, 8 assists and 5 blocks in the win.
Jamorko Pickett was the best player on the court on Wednesday. He filled the stat sheet with a career-high 30 points on 10-18 shooting with 11 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals and an assist. Pickett’s ability to stretch the floor pairs well with someone like Diakite who’s able to take the center defensive assignment and attack in the open floor offensively. This was needed as the elder Mobley missed his fifth-straight Charge game with a knee injury.
Dillon Windler was recently assigned to the Charge and was with the team on the bench tonight. He’s expected to play for the Charge on Wednesday night.
“It’ll be nice,” said Merrill when asked about what it’s going to be like to play with Windler on Wednesday. “He’s a good player. Having another guy like him that can shoot it like that will certainly open things up for us. As we know, part of the G League is getting guys reps. We want to make sure we involve him and give him opportunities to do what he does. I’m excited for him to get back out there.”
Up next: The Charge, and Windler, will be back in action against the South Bay Lakers on Wednesday night. Tip time is 7 p.m.