CLEVELAND – To understand how far Cavaliers rookie point guard Collin Sexton has come as a closer, it is necessary to remember his failures.

On Nov. 5 in a two-point loss at Orlando, Sexton sat for the final 7:37 as coach Larry Drew went with veteran George Hill.

On Nov. 10 in a one-point loss at Chicago, Sexton missed a driving layup and grabbed the rebound, only to have another layup blocked by Jabari Parker at the buzzer.

On Nov. 21 in a four-point home loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, Sexton went scoreless in 8½ fourth-quarter minutes.

On Dec. 23 in a 10-point home loss to the Chicago Bulls, Sexton was again shut out in the fourth, going 0-for-5 from the field on a night when he made just 3-of-16.

On Dec. 29 in a three-point loss at Atlanta, he missed a driving layup that would have tied the score with 37.2 seconds left. Drew subbed two-way player Jaron Blossomgame in for defense down the stretch.

That’s why after Sexton demonstrated how he can carry a team in the clutch for the second consecutive game in Wednesday’s five-point home victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, Drew said, “I think failure can be one of your best teaching tools.”

That’s why Drew believes those close early-season losses when Sexton could have helped his team win, along with the times when he was stuck on the bench watching Hill or Matthew Dellavedova, have been instrumental in Sexton starting to demonstrate the ice in his veins in the final two minutes.

“Early in the season when he was watching, because I know in those situations he wants to be in the game, having to sit over there and feel it from the bench and then get the opportunity to be in the game, it’s not always going to turn out positive,” Drew said. “But the most important thing is you learn from it. I think as we have progressed through this season, he has done that. I think he’s really learned how to play in those crunch-time situations.

"I think he will be better and better as this thing winds down and he moves forward with his career.”

Sexton, 20, said his early-season fourth-quarter struggles served as motivation, but he never lost confidence.

“You want to be out there for the final seconds, so I had to pick up my effort on defense because sometimes they took me out,” he said. “I had to pick that up and make shots.

“I’ve always been confident. I always had the next-game mentality. I know if I mess up, I have another one tomorrow.”

His defense is still a work in progress. But the Cavs have upset the Toronto Raptors, Detroit Pistons and Bucks, three Eastern Conference playoff teams, at home since March 11 and Sexton had a big hand in the most recent two.

On Monday against the Pistons, Sexton made two 3-pointers in the final 1:54. Against the Bucks, Sexton connected on a 3-pointer and a driving layup in the final 1:42, the latter with 42.5 seconds remaining. Teammates also lauded him for making the right pass on Cedi Osman’s 3-point misfire with 13 seconds to go.

“It just shows you that this kid is starting to turn the corner,” Drew said. “Really putting together some really good games against some really good teams. ... I don’t doubt that he won’t continue to work to get better. But I want him to continue to learn. Learn how to play that position. Learn how to be a leader. Learn how to get his teammates involved. Continue to learn the game. Because he has certainly done a phenomenal job from the very beginning.”

Since the All-Star break, Sexton has scored 22 clutch points (in the fourth quarter or overtime, under five minutes and no team ahead by more than five), totaling more than LeBron James or rookie of the year leader Luka Doncic, who have 20. In that span, Sexton has made 8-of-9 field goals and 5-of-6 3-pointers.

Center Tristan Thompson, who returned Wednesday after missing 26 consecutive games, has watched Sexton’s growth in the clutch.

“He’s a gamer. He’s been like that his whole career,” Thompson said. “In the last two minutes he read the game the right way ... What we’re trying to build moving forward is you make the right plays, and it’s on the next guy to make the shot. He’s understanding that and that’s what we want from our point guard.

“Maybe earlier in his career he might have attacked the rim against two 7-footers, but now he’s learning just trust the pass. That’s growth and development. That’s what this whole season is about.”

Guard Jordan Clarkson said he believes Sexton began to turn the corner Feb. 28 at New York, when the Cavs rallied from a 14-point deficit early in the fourth quarter to beat the Knicks by seven. Sexton scored eight of his 22 points in the final quarter, when he also had two assists, and Kevin Love said afterward, “I told Collin he really won us the game.”

Comments from veterans carry weight because early in the season they were voicing off-the-record concerns over the eighth overall pick. Sexton said Wednesday they were also yelling at him for his shot selection.

“My teammates, they scream and yell at me for pump-faking and taking one dribble and shooting the midrange, so I was like, ‘I might as well start shooting [the 3]. I practice on it, so I might as well shoot it,’” Sexton said.

As the clock winds down, Clarkson said the Cavs have more confidence in Sexton now.

“Early as a young guy you’ve still got to prove yourself a little bit,” Clarkson said. “He’s showing strides. He works hard. Just got to continue to watch film and get in there and make those plays until your teammates trust you. I feel like he’s gaining that from a lot of guys right now.”

 

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.