Ricky was the guy who got us going. You could feel his intensity, his activity on the defensive end. He fought all the time, on offense and he was aggressive. —Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder on Ricky Rubio
SALT LAKE CITY — On a night when he was honored by the NBA in a pre-game ceremony for his community service, Ricky Rubio had perhaps his best game in a Jazz uniform in helping lead Utah to a 104-101 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Rubio nearly posted his sixth career triple-double with 16 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, which would have been the first for a Jazz player in nearly 10 years. But the Spaniard also had plenty of help as rookie Donovan Mitchell had still another outstanding game with 29 points, six assists and three steals, Derrick Favors scored 17 points and Thabo Sefolosha had 10 points and 12 rebounds and some tough defense on LeBron James in the second half.
The Jazz victory spoiled James' 33rd birthday and handed King James his seventh straight defeat to the Jazz at Vivint Arena. After scoring 20 points in the first half, James was held scoreless in the third quarter and finished with 29 points, but with six turnovers.
While Mitchell wowed the crowds with a pair of thunderous dunks and some nifty moves around the basket, it was Rubio who gave the Jazz some early energy when it looked like the Jazz might get blown out by the team that’s been to three straight NBA Finals.
“I thought Ricky was terrific,” said coach Quin Snyder. “Ricky was the guy who got us going. You could feel his intensity, his activity on the defensive end. He fought all the time, on offense and he was aggressive. Most importantly his impact on the game both as a playmaker and as a defender gave us great energy to see him play with that much energy and urgency and confidence.”
Rubio, who was honored with the November NBA Cares Community Assist Award in recognition of his effort to raise awareness and support research for lung cancer, shrugged off his role in the Jazz big victory.
“I was trying to be aggressive,” he said. “We had a slow start the other night against Oklahoma City, and tonight it was to be aggressive from the beginning.”
While Rubio kept the Jazz in the game early and helped fuel a 23-3 run to start the second half, it was Mitchell who was the star for the Jazz down the stretch.
Cleveland had come back from a double-digit deficit to close within one point when Mitchell came up with the play of the night with 35 seconds left. He took the ball out front, beat J.R. Smith and then drove past James and scored over his outstretched hand.
“It was either a layup or a pass to Joe (Ingles) on the wing if LeBron fully committed,” Mitchell said. “But he just sort of stood there to try and scare me. So I just continued up, but he never jumped so I ended up finishing through.”
Snyder called it a “timely shot” and added, “He kept the ball high he didn’t bring it down where it could get stripped and was able to make the shot. He’s unique in that he works on those things and applies them with success.”
After Mitchell’s layup made it 100-97, James missed on a drive up the middle with 26 seconds left. Then Sefolosha was fouled and made two free throws to make it a five-point margin. James came back to cut the lead to three with a layup at the 19-second mark, but Favors sank two free throws with nine seconds left to seal the deal.
While James finished with 29 points and Kevin Love added 20, the rest of the Cavs starters contributed only eight points between the three of them. Jeff Green scored 22 off the bench and Tristan Thompson chipped in 11 points and Dwyane Wade had nine points.
After taking the lead at 6-5, the Cavaliers didn’t give it up for the rest of the half as they led by as many as 14 before a late run cut the lead to 53-46 at the break.
In the third quarter, the Jazz came out smokin’, going on a 23-3 run to take a 71-56 lead. The advantage got as high as 15 at 71-56 before the Cavs starting creeping back into the game.
James had praise for Mitchell afterwards, saying, "He's a player, kid's got game. He's not afraid of the moment. He just goes out there and plays ball."
As for his team's third loss in four games, James said, "I think it's just a season of ups and downs. Hopefully we can figure it back out."