With Houston and Dallas both picking up wins Monday night, the Jazz needed to hold serve at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers to avoid losing ground in the playoff race. It would be a tough test against Cleveland, who came into Monday night’s game having won the first three games of their four-game road trip. To make the task more difficult, the Jazz were without Gordon Hayward, who was announced as a scratch just hours before the game due to plantar fasciitis. With Gordon out, Rodney Hood stepped up to lead the Jazz to a big win in a nationally televised ESPN game.
Cleveland got off to a good start. Kyrie Irving hit a three, and then LeBron James converted a monster alley-oop that even had Jazz fans cheering. LeBron’s presence created a buzz in the arena. 45 minutes before the game even started there were at least 100 fans lined up around the portal where the Cavaliers would exit. LeBron didn’t disappoint the fans that showed up early. Even during warm-ups he put on a show, throwing down acrobatic dunks that would even impress during All Star Saturday Night festivities. He continued to shine throughout the first quarter. LeBron put up 11 points in the first, and looked to be well on his way to taking advantage of a Hayward-less Jazz team. LeBron even pulled up and drained a three with one tenth of a second left on the first quarter clock. But it was an all around team effort from the Jazz that put the home team on top, 28-26, after one.
The Jazz stepped up their defense in the second quarter and forced Cleveland into some contested shots. The Cavs only scored 18 points in the second. Rodney Hood found his way off a couple of screens to knock down some key shots. Shelvin Mack was also finding his way to the basket against his All Star counterpart Kyrie Irving. Mack was even able to create separation on a sweet step back to knock down a three over Kyrie. Shelvin finished with a near triple double. He had 17 points, 10 assists, and 7 rebounds. Utah went into the half with a 48-44 lead.
The third quarter lacked flow for either team. The Jazz got their lead up to nine points two different times during the third quarter, but Cleveland eventually ground Utah’s offense to a stop. The Jazz went stagnant for much of the third quarter, giving Cleveland the opportunity to erase their halftime deficit. Going into the fourth quarter it was all level at 66.
The Jazz made a statement in the fourth quarter. Cleveland hit a couple of early shots to pick up a little bit of momentum. But Trey Lyles led a second unit of Jazz players on a tremendous stretch that saw the Jazz go up by eight points. While Rodney Hood, who finished with 28 points, was the star of the game, Lyles contributed in tremendous ways during his time on the floor. The rookie finished with 12 points. His energy and big shots were crucial during a time when the Jazz were against the ropes. He would have had more of an opportunity to contribute late, but he was involved in an altercation with Channing Frye late in the game. Lyles was holding the ball at the top of the key and swung an elbow below Frye’s belt. The two went head to head and had to be separated by teammates. After a really, really long replay review, both players were ejected from the game. Lyles was given a standing ovation on his way out of the arena. The Jazz took control from that point on. They led by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter. The Jazz also shut LeBron down on offense. After getting off to a hot start, James only managed to score 13 points the entire rest of the game. He finished with 23 points. The Jazz were able to stop a mini Cleveland run to ensure the victory late in the fourth. The final score was 94-85 for the Jazz.
This is a big win for Utah, who is now on a three-game winning streak. The Jazz also have a great opportunity to pick up a fourth straight win. They’ll play Phoenix at home on Thursday. It gets tough after that, as the Jazz embark on a five-game road trip. The standings will become very interesting to watch in the closing weeks of the season. Dallas has a hellacious stretch of games coming up. If the Jazz can steal a couple of games on this upcoming road trip they’ll be right back in the hunt. This win against Cleveland will go a long way in showing the Jazz what they are capable of. Even without Hayward they managed to close out one of the league’s best teams. They also managed to hold the world’s best player (sorry Steph Curry fans, LeBron is still the king) to only 13 points in the final three quarters of a competitive game. Considering that we’ve seen him do that in the final three minutes of games before, it’s a huge accomplishment for the Jazz. A win on Thursday would extend the Jazz’ second longest winning streak of the season. While there is still work to be done, the Jazz are playing themselves into a very promising position for the home stretch.
Quin Snyder – Utah Jazz Head Coach
Rodney Hood – 28 points
Shelvin Mack – 17 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds
Trey Lyles – 12 points
Tyronn Lue – Cleveland Cavaliers Head Coach
LeBron James – 23 points, 9 rebounds