They were just the better team. —Jazz point guard Trey Burke
CLEVELAND — Late in Friday’s game between the Utah Jazz and Cleveland Cavaliers, a young man ran onto the court, approached star Kyrie Irving and quickly got tackled, handcuffed and hauled off to a more secure spot downtown by police.
The fan wasn’t the only one to get pummeled and taken down hard on the Quicken Loans Arena hardwood floor on this night.
The Jazz didn’t commit a crime, but they sure didn’t commit themselves to playing very good basketball either during a 99-79 loss to the surprisingly hot Cavaliers.
“They were just the better team,” Jazz point guard Trey Burke admitted.
The Cavs were. In a lot of areas.
That might come as a surprise to some — even from Cleveland. Before the game, two fans engaged in a short conversation on the concourse.
"We're playing Utah?” a twenty-something said. “Guaranteed win." His friend quickly responded: "Let's not get ahead of ourselves."
It is, after all, impolite to declare victory until the third quarter. That’s when Cleveland, similar to what it’d done in a win in Utah last month, hit the domination button against the Jazz. After halftime, the Cavs’ turned Utah’s 41-39 midway lead into a laugher with back-to-back 30-19 quarters.
“In the second half, they got their hands on us a little bit more, got us out of our posts. We couldn’t get the ball inside like we normally do. We settled for some jump shots and they were able to run out on us,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “We just didn’t match their intensity on the defensive end.”
Some might say the trespassing fan got closer to a Cavalier in the second half than any Utah defenders did.
That resulted in a lopsided outcome, the Jazz’s second loss to Cleveland this year, a rough start to a six-game road trip, Utah falling to 21-37 and “I told you so” bragging rights for the Cavs fan who called his shot beforehand.
There were plenty of other Cleveland highlights for the two pals to replay in conversation.
Irving, the All-Star game MVP, recorded his first triple-double with 21 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds before his strange in-game interaction; three Cleveland players grabbed double-digit boards as the Cavs outrebounded Utah 56-31; the Jazz were outscored 60-38 in the second half; and the home team kept its playoff hopes alive with its eighth win in 11 games.
“They were the aggressive team,” Corbin said.
And the Jazz?
They might prefer if their fans talk about CEO Greg Miller’s well-received performance in the reality TV show “Undercover Boss,” which aired Friday, instead of the team’s showing.
“You have to tip your hat to (the Cavs). It was a good game plan and we struggled,” Jazz small forward Richard Jefferson said. “Our defense was not what it should have been. We had a bunch of defensive lapses.”
The Jazz came out fairly strong, and shooting guard Gordon Hayward hit his first three shots from 3-point range as Utah jumped ahead 27-20 after the first quarter.
Only one person in the arena had a rougher night than the Jazz after that, though. Utah only scored 52 points combined in the final three quarters, shot 35 percent from the field (despite hitting 14 of 29 3-pointers) and simply looked off.
“I think we were getting good looks. We just weren’t knocking them down,” said Hayward, who was the exception to that during a team-high 18-point night on 6-of-13 shooting.
“They just kind of took off on us,” he added. “It’s hard on the road when you get down like that to come back. It was one of those nights.”
The Jazz had a similar unraveling against Cleveland, getting outscored 39-21 in the third quarter of a 113-102 loss at EnergySolutions Arena on Jan. 10. And this time the Cavs did it even with former Jazz guard C.J. Miles, center Anderson Varejao, guard Dion Waiters and forward Anthony Bennett sidelined with injuries.
Irving was Cleveland’s catalyst, but the 24-36 squad also got big outings from forward Tristan Thompson (18 points, 14 rebounds), recently acquired center Spencer Hawes (13 points, 16 boards) and forward Luol Deng (16 points).
Utah, meanwhile, got very little production from its starting big men — Derrick Favors and Marvin Williams combined for 13 points and five rebounds. Point guard Trey Burke struggled playing against Irving in his first pro game in his home state, finishing with just four points, five rebounds and three assists.
Despite their rough go, the Jazz didn’t provide the lowlight of the game.
That dishonor belongs to the third spectator in a year who ran onto The Q court. Irving was a good sport about it, joking in the locker room that it was a friend.
"The guy said, 'I love you,' and I said, 'I love you too, bro,'" the star said.
Burke, who only played 23 minutes, said it was “random” to see that happen from the bench.
"That was crazy," added Jazz point guard Diante Garrett, who was in the game at the time. "I’d never seen that in person."