We made it a little too easy on him. He doesn't need any help. He hit some tough shots. —Jazz head coach Quin Snyder
CLEVELAND — The Utah Jazz, playing for the second consecutive night, deserve some credit for making Thursday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers a competitive contest.
LeBron James deserves credit for turning it into a Cavs win.
After trailing by double digits early on, the Jazz rallied to take a lead in the fourth quarter before James did what he does and lifted the defending NBA champions to a 91-83 victory at Quicken Loans Arena.
James outscored the Jazz by himself in the decisive fourth, 17-16, and finished with 33 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
“We know how good he is. You get to a point in the game and that’s what you expect,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “You try to take something away and we didn’t do a good job. We made it a little too easy on him. He doesn’t need any help. He hit some tough shots.”
James knew it was up to him to carry the Cavs in the fourth quarter. Kevin Love returned from his injury absence, but he was sidelined after scoring 10 points in 20 minutes. Kyrie Irving didn’t play in the final 12 minutes because of tightness in his knee after tallying 21 points, four rebounds and four assists in three quarters. Iman Shumpert was also out after hurting his shoulder earlier in the game.
Irving told James that he wasn’t going to be able to finish the game, so James took it upon himself to finish off the Jazz. The only other Cavs to score in the fourth quarter were former Utah players Richard Jefferson (six points) and Deron Williams (one).
“I knew obviously with Kev, they give him minute restrictions when he’s coming back. I knew Shump was out. Kyrie won’t be able to finish the game,” James said. “So I had to shoulder the scoring load a little bit, be a little bit more aggressive and I was able to do that.”
In impressive fashion, too.
“It’s pretty hard to stop a freight train when it’s coming after you,” Jazz forward Gordon Hayward said. “It’s why he is who he is.”
James made the assist of the night, too, finding J.R. Smith wide open on the wing for a game-clinching 3-pointer with just over a minute remaining. Utah had a chance to cut into a three-point deficit right before that, but a Joe Johnson shot was off and then James and Smith made them pay and doubled the lead.
The Jazz, who fell to 43-26, didn’t blame this setback on their inability to stop James, though. Defensively, Utah held the Cavs to 41.5 percent shooting and limited the home team to just 91 points. On most nights, that’s an effort that translates into a win.
It was the Jazz’s offense that really prevented them from winning the second and toughest game of this four-game road trip. Utah next plays Saturday in Chicago.
The Jazz shot only 41.9 percent for the game and hit just six of 19 shots in the fourth quarter after tying it up through three quarters.
It hurt that Hayward and George Hill both had off nights. Hayward missed 10 of 14 shots and scored only 14 points, while Hill finished with nine points on 3-of-10 shooting.
“I think tonight we just didn’t make shots,” Hayward said. “Some days are diamonds, some days are stones. Unfortunately for a lot of us, tonight it was a stone.”
The loss spoiled a terrific game by Rudy Gobert. The Jazz center scored 20 points on 10-of-13 shooting, grabbed 19 rebounds and blocked two shots.
Gobert blamed communication problems for the loss.
"I don't think we were all on the same page," he said. "That happens sometimes, and we have to work on it."
The Cavs (45-22) weren't the only ones facing injury issues. Utah played without starting power forward Derrick Favors and starting shooting guard Rodney Hood, both of whom are dealing with knee injuries.
"I'm disappointed. I just don't like how we lost," Snyder said, pointing out the absence of those two key players while also lamenting the lack of execution and mental precision.
"I think our guys have done a good job. I don't want to overreact, but I felt that this was a game where if we continued to execute on some of the things we have been doing, we might have been able to pull one out."