Utah Jazz (43-26) 83
Cleveland Cavaliers (45-22) 91
The Utah Jazz came into Thursday night’s game in Cleveland playing really good basketball. The fourth seed in the Western Conference going into the night, the Jazz had won six of their last seven games. Despite the Cavaliers coming off two days rest and the Jazz playing in the second night of back-to-back road games, this was bound to be a tough game for the Cavaliers. Since LeBron’s return to Cleveland, the Cavaliers were just 2-3 against Utah and the Jazz had never lost to Ty Lue as coach of the Cavs.
There was some good news for the Cavaliers, though, as before the game it was announced that Kevin Love would return to the team and would be starting in this game. That good news was offset in the fourth quarter, however, when it was announced that Kyrie Irving had stiffness in his left knee and Iman Shumpert had a sprained shoulder. Neither player would return to the game. Such is life this season for the Cavaliers.
With Derrick Williams out with a back contusion and Kyle Korver still out with tendonitis in his foot, along with Kevin Love being on a minutes restriction, the Cavaliers suddenly found themselves extremely shorthanded in the fourth quarter. The LeBron and reserves lineup would be called on to close out this game against one of the NBA’s best defenses. Thankfully, they were up to the task.
A close game for most of the night, the Cavaliers were finally able to pull away a bit down the stretch thanks to some phenomenal execution on offense and some really, really good defense of their own. The Cavaliers were able to come away with a big win against perhaps the most underrated team in the league.
The Jazz may not get a lot of notoriety or acclaim, they may not play a lot of games on national TV, and they may not have a lot of household names, but they execute really well in the half court offense and they are giving up the fewest points per game in the NBA on defense. This is not a team that is going to be fun for anyone to face in the Western Conference playoffs.
So while this may not have been a pretty game, the Cavaliers should take a lot of pride in the way they were able to grit out a tough win. Sure, the Jazz were without a pair of starters in Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood, but with the Cavaliers’ injury issues of their own, neither team was going to use that as an excuse. Rather, the Cavaliers should just view this as a really solid win as Cleveland continues to try to turn the month of March around.
Now, the numbers:
- 58:50 – With a combined 60 minutes available for players in the fourth quarter, the lineup of LeBron James, Deron Williams, Richard Jefferson, JR Smith, and Channing Frye played 58 minutes and 50 seconds of them. Only Tristan Thompson broke up the complete fourth quarter, playing 1:10 for Channing Frye. Other than that one move, Ty Lue made no substitutions in the quarter. It wasn’t so much strategic, it was really more necessity. Kyrie and Shumpert were both ruled out for the rest of the game with injuries, Kevin Love done for the night due to his minutes restriction, and Derrick Williams and Kyle Korver out, there simply weren’t a lot of options. And this lineup responded. They outscored the Jazz 24-16 while holding Utah to just 31.6 percent shooting from the field.
- 887 – The Cavaliers made nine three-pointers against the Jazz, bringing their season total to 887. Last season the Cavaliers set a franchise record by making 880. With 887, this year’s team has now already set a new franchise mark. 887 in 67 games puts them on pace to make a staggering 1,085 threes for the season. That number would surpass last season’s NBA record 1,077 set by the Golden State Warriors, but the Houston Rockets already have 1,001 threes this season. Safe to assume they are going to shatter that mark and the Cavaliers’ projected mark. It just goes to show how important the three-point shot is to today’s NBA.
- 10 and 9 – Yes, Kevin Love was back! Originally not expected until March, Love was able to come back after missing just 13 games. Despite being on a minutes restriction, Love was still able to make an impact on the game. He finished with 10 points and nine rebounds. Showcasing why the Cavaliers missed him so much, Love was active off the ball making some nice cuts off the ball to set up easy baskets and he came up with some nice rebounds, the kind the team had been giving up to opponents the last couple of weeks. It was so good to see Love back on the court and now the next step will be getting rid of the limit on his minutes.
- 29:42 – Speaking of minutes restrictions, JR Smith was put on a 20-minute limit himself when he made his return to the team. He’s been hovering right around 20 minutes in each game since he came back, but against the Jazz, he was able to play almost 30 minutes. JR keeps looking more and more like himself. He hit four of his eight attempts from three-point range in this one for 12 points, and he finished +11, second only to LeBron James. JR’s defense is starting to return to form and he was able to knock down a critical three-pointer to essentially put this game away.
- 33/10/6 – What else can we say about LeBron James? While he probably won’t actually win the MVP award this season, this game showcased precisely why no matter what the voters say, LeBron James is the most valuable player in the NBA. Forced to carry the reserves through the entire fourth quarter, LeBron did what MVPs do and he put the team on his back. LeBron scored 17 points in the fourth quarter en route to a 33 point, 10 rebound, six assist effort for the evening. Time and time again when the Jazz would try to get back to a one-possession game, LeBron would attack the rim and keep the cushion in Cleveland’s favor. Nobody is questioning what guys like James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Kawhi Leonard are doing this season, but LeBron is still an unparalleled force of nature on the floor and he is every bit as deserving of the MVP award.
The Cavaliers now head out for a four-game road trip starting Saturday in Los Angeles against the Clippers. The Cavaliers then play the Los Angeles Lakers, the Denver Nuggets, and the Charlotte Hornets. The team is saying that Kyrie and Shumpert’s injuries are minor and not something to be worried about, but it’s always concerning when players keep missing time.
It’s just a string on one thing after another for the Cavaliers this season, and it’s really de-emphasizing the results of these games more than even normal. The rest of this season is really going to be more about getting everyone healthy and back on the same page. For now, though, the Cavaliers should just be happy that they were able to add some depth in recent weeks to at least alleviate some of these injuries as much as possible.
Step one of that process was getting Kevin Love back. So despite some other setbacks in the health department, getting Love back and getting a nice win against a very good Jazz team should be something to be celebrated.