Sam Merrill grew up rooting for the Utah Jazz. This week, he lived a dream and beat them.

The former Utah State star scored 27 points off the bench to help the Cavs win 124-116.

It was yet another night to forget for the Utah Jazz defensively.

Despite the Cavaliers lacking their three leading scorers on the season — Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, and Evan Mobley were all inactive — the Jazz couldn’t find a way to stop Cleveland’s offensive attack, giving up 23 threes in a 124-116 loss Wednesday.

The game’s biggest star was a Utahn, though: former Utah State Aggie Sam Merrill. While Merrill has been in and out of the Cavaliers’ rotation this season, the injuries and illnesses meant the coaching staff pushed Merrill to more time.

“I just wanted to make sure they felt like I was doing everything I could to make sure that physically, mentally I was ready,” Merrill said. “Obviously, it’s exciting to be able to get some more minutes and play well and do it all while we’re also winning games. That’s what you dream of doing as a kid.”

Merrill rewarded the coaches’ move, by following up a 19-point night against Atlanta on Monday with a 27-point performance against his hometown Utah Jazz on Wednesday. Two open threes at the end of the first quarter started Merrill’s night quickly. But the Jazz never really stuck with him during the contest — and he ended up shooting 8 of 14 from 3-point range.

The 27 points, eight threes made, and nine shots made were all career highs for Merrill, as were his 30 minutes played.

The performance came less than a week after the Jazz allowed Sacramento’s Keegan Murray to hit 12 threes on Saturday. That game set the NBA’s high this season. Merrill is the second player this season to make eight while coming off the bench.

The 27-year-old Merrill, who starred at Bountiful High School, began his NBA career in 2020, being selected with the last pick (60th) in the NBA draft. He played 30 games with the Bucks in his first season, before playing just six with the Memphis Grizzlies. He was waived on New Year’s Day of 2022.

A third chance with the Sacramento Kings didn’t land Merrill any NBA playing time, but his fourth stop in Cleveland earned him real fans. He signed a 10-day contract with Cleveland in March, and impressed in five end-of-season games. He then signed a 3-year, $5 million contract to stay with the team through 2026.

“I’ve felt like there were times where maybe this wasn’t going to work out,” Merrill said. “I just kept working and working and working. There’s been ups and downs these last three and a half years since I’ve been out of college.”

Merrill got his chance in part because Donovan Mitchell, the former Jazz star, was a late game-time decision after falling ill early in the week. Mitchell missed the Cavaliers’ shootaround Wednesday morning, but there was still indecision on his availability until about a half hour before the contest. That meant that the Jazz prepared with Mitchell in mind, then had to play a very different, perimeter-focused game against the 3-point happy Cavaliers.

The Jazz played their own 3-point-oriented game to stay close, even entering the fourth quarter with a 1-point lead. At that point of the game, the Jazz were the ones shooting the lights out of the ball, making 56% of their threes. The fourth quarter changed everything, though — the Cavs went 7 for 12 in the quarter, while the Jazz went 0 for 6 from deep, delighting the sellout crowd at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

Lauri Markkanen led the Jazz with 26 points, an expectedly strong night for the Jazz’s star in his return to Cleveland. Collin Sexton, another former Cavalier, finished with 20 points. The loss for the Jazz pushed them down to a 10-18 record, while the Cavs improved to 16-12 and sixth in the Eastern Conference.

Next for the Jazz? A game against the Detroit Pistons on Thursday night. The Pistons have lost 24 games in a row.

But for Merrill, Wednesday represented a full-circle moment.

“To be honest, in high school, my goal was to play Division 1 basketball. The NBA was never even in my sights. I just didn’t think that was going to happen, because guys where I’m from usually don’t (make it),” Merrill said. “I grew up in Utah. I was huge a Jazz fan growing up. So to be able to have a game like that, against them, it’s even more special for sure.”