CLEVELAND — Maybe it was the change to the starting lineup and bench that injected the Utah Jazz with renewed vigor and focus.
Maybe they've really turned the corner on the road.
Maybe the Cleveland Cavaliers just aren't all that good.
Heck, maybe Gordon Hayward will prove to be sixth man of the year material.
Or maybe, all of the above.
Whatever the case, the Utah Jazz finally won a road game, bursting out to a 17-point lead and then holding on to beat the Cavs 109-100 Monday at The Q.
"We needed a big road win," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "So we're going to hold on to this one for a day and a half."
Boy, did they ever need a win outside of the Beehive State.
The Jazz hadn't celebrated a victory away from home since taking down Memphis on Feb. 12. They'd been in five of the ensuing six defeats in the fourth quarter, but managed to find a way to botch it in the end.
Not on this night.
Sure, the Cavs (13-23) made it interesting with a belated rally that whittled the 17-point Jazz lead down to five with 50 seconds remaining.
But, fittingly for this night, Hayward and Al Jefferson scored the final four points on free throws to help the Jazz finish this one out on a positive note.
The made freebies capped stellar performances for both guys.
In his first reserve role this season, Hayward made a major impact with 23 points, five assists and four rebounds in 28 meaningful minutes.
"You can go either way on that thing, and I think he took it in a positive manner," Corbin said hours after insisting multiple times that his decision to bring Hayward off the bench was not a demotion. "(He) came out and had a great game … and we needed it from him."
"I didn't take it as anything but he's trying to do whatever to help the team win," Hayward said of Corbin's decision to change the Jazz lineup. "That's what we need is wins, so that's what I'm focused on. I came out, was aggressive. I was able to get a couple more opportunities, couple of more touches."
And make the most of them, shooting 8-for-11 overall and 2-for-3 from long distance.
Jefferson's huge night included a game-high 25 points, 13 rebounds and a career-high seven assists.
"This is a game we know we had to win," Jefferson said. "Every game from here on out we've got to win. We're trying to stay in this playoff race. We've got to do it. We talk about it all the time. We've just got to get it done."
Starting shooting guard Raja Bell's return from a groin injury forced Corbin to make a lineup decision, and he chose to move Hayward to the second unit despite the fact the second-year swingman had started every game.
Hayward made Corbin look like a genius and showed flashes of his star potential, quickly helping lift the Jazz to double-digit lead territory after having his number called late in the first quarter.
When he entered with Derrick Favors, Utah was only up by two points. The momentum changed quickly, and the visitors took a 56-41 lead into halftime after Hayward scored 11 off the bench.
Veteran Josh Howard got the starting nod instead of Hayward at small forward because Corbin likes the way he's played of late, values his NBA starting experience and thinks he works well with Jefferson. A nine-year veteran, Howard scored in double figures in all six starts in Bell's absence and finished this one with 14 points.
The Jazz finished without starting point guard Devin Harris, who had the Jazz off and running smoothly in transition in the first half while Utah dictated the tempo.
Harris sprained the MCL in his right knee early in the third quarter and didn't return. He hopes to be available for Wednesday's game in Charlotte.
Antawn Jamison and Kyrie Irving each scored 22 points for the Cavs, who have lost six straight.
The Jazz, meanwhile, shot 50 percent, outrebounded Cleveland 46-30, had 24 assists and won for the third time in four games. It helped that they got needed contributions from the likes of Paul Millsap (13 points, nine rebounds), Favors (eight points, five boards) and even Jamaal Tinsley (two 3-pointers).
"I think we're all excited about that," Bell said of the overdue road win. "We've got a lot of road games coming up and if we're going to be in the fight for a playoff spot, we're going to have to win some road games, so that's pretty good. Hopefully, we can build on that Wednesday night."
Backup guard Earl Watson even liked that the Jazz were challenged in the final minutes.
"It was important to get a win, but it was also important to get a win the right way,' Watson said. "They made a run, but we stayed with it. … Some adversity was in the game and we stayed on it and we played well and finished it out."
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