CLEVELAND — “MVP-MVP-MVP,” fans in the Quicken Loans Arena chanted as LeBron James stepped to the free-throw line with 37.3 seconds left in regulation.
James calmly sank both for point No. 28 and 29.
In the process, the 15-year, 32-year-old veteran surpassed Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird for sixth on the all-time NBA career triple-double list with Saturday's 29 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
And by the way, Cleveland handed the Utah Jazz their fifth loss in the past six games, 109-100.
The Cavaliers have now won 17 of their last 18 games.
“I’m a historian of the game, I know who set the standards for this league,” James said. “I understand who set the standard for me to be here and who traveled the road long before I got here to make it possible for myself, so it’s just humbling any time I’m mentioned with any of the greats.”
The past 48 hours have been a brutal stretch for the Jazz. Yes, they beat the Celtics in Boston 107-95 Friday but lost both members of their frontcourt to injuries in the midst of their toughest part of the season.
Rudy Gobert suffered a sprained PCL in his left knee and bone bruise after clashing with his teammate Derrick Favors in Boston. He will be re-evaluated in two weeks, and Favors will miss time with concussion-like symptoms and an eye laceration that required six stitches.
Despite playing undermanned, Jazz coach Quin Snyder got creative with the rotation, starting Ekpe Udoh and Joe Johnson in the place of Gobert and Favors — also letting Royce O’Neale see action.
O’Neale stepped up in the moment and contributed 12 points off the bench, going 4 for 5 from 3-point range in 11 minutes. He even guarded James on a few possessions.
“It was good playing against guys you grew up watching,” O’Neale said of James. “He’s a great player, one of the best in the game right now, if not the best, so just having the opportunity to play against him was fun.”
Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell was spectacular in the clutch again, posting 14 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter. Against Boston, he hit 10 of his 17 in the fourth quarter.
Mitchell shot 11 for 16 from the field while going 3 for 6 from deep and wasn’t afraid of the moment. He even blew past James for a driving layup near halftime and put Jeff Green in his patented spin cycle to set up a thunderous two-handed jam at 8:54 in the fourth quarter. He continues to turn heads individually, but the team can’t find a groove with so many guys getting hurt.
“It’s not really about Donovan’s experience, it’s about our team, but at the same time he’s part of our team so there’s going to be situations where he finds himself in,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “I feel like we’re all that way, not just Donovan, because a lot of guys are in new roles, but it’s noticeable with him for one, because he’s a rookie and two, he’s doing a lot with our team.”
The Cavaliers shot 53.2 percent while holding the Jazz to 45.7 percent from the field.
Joe Ingles finished with a team-high nine assists and nine points with six rebounds, and Thabo Sefolosha posted 12 points and five boards off the bench.
Utah will travel to Houston next for a Monday night matchup against the Rockets.
Cleveland is set to face the Washington Wizards on the road Sunday.
James says he’s enjoying the game as much as he’s ever done throughout his career. With 58 seconds left in the opening quarter, that joy was on display as he caught a left-handed alley-oop jam in transition off a Jeff Green lob with his head behind the basket. James will celebrate his 33rd birthday in Salt Lake City when the Cavaliers face the Jazz on Saturday, Dec. 30, at Vivint Arena.
“The beat writers around here know why I have an extra pep in my step and it came from being with my kids at their summer basketball clinics this past summer,” James said. “Being at their tournaments in Vegas and Charlotte and back home.
“When you’re watching 12-year-olds and 9 and 10-year-olds, they’re just playing for the love of the game,” he added. “That’s all they're doing. They gave me a little bit of a burst.”