SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s resurgent ability to take over a game on defense is once again turning the Jazz into a difficult matchup for NBA teams.
It showed in a 115-99 victory over Cleveland on Friday night.
The Cavaliers hung around for barely a quarter before the Jazz imposed their will on defense. Utah forced Cleveland into bad shots, got into transition and kept the Cavaliers off the glass when it mattered. Ultimately, Cleveland (9-37) shot just 21 of 68 (.309) from the field over the first three quarters. It opened the door for Utah (26-21) to claim its sixth straight win and eighth in nine games.
“It’s the same team we were last year,” Donovan Mitchell said. “The same team that came in and was aggressive on defense.”
Mitchell shined in his temporary point guard role once again, scoring 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting. Rudy Gobert added 19 points and 15 rebounds. Royce O’Neale and Derrick Favors also finished with double-doubles, with O’Neale totaling 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Favors 12 points and 10 boards.
The Jazz dominated around the paint for four quarters. They finished with a 48-37 advantage in rebounds and outscored the Cavaliers 60-44 in the paint and 11-4 in second-chance points.
“We became too stagnant and played into the heart of their defense,” Cleveland coach Larry Drew said. “With a shot blocker like Gobert, you can’t just play 1-on-1 basketball. The ball has to move. We have to move our bodies.”
Ante Zizic and Collin Sexton each scored 15 points for the Cavaliers. Zizic added 10 rebounds to get his first career double-double. Cameron Payne had 14 off the bench.
Cleveland took its only lead at 7-6 when Cedi Osman stole a pass from Jae Crowder and set Sexton up for a layup. Utah surged ahead for good on back-to-back 3-pointers from Mitchell and O’Neale that sparked a 12-4 run. Gobert finished it off with a dunk off a lob pass from Mitchell, giving Utah an 18-11 lead.
The Cavaliers closed within two at 20-18 on a pair of free throws from Payne. Utah then got going from the perimeter near the end of the first quarter and put the game out of reach.
Joe Ingles, Crowder, Kyle Korver, and Grayson Allen rattled off four 3-pointers over four straight possessions spanning the first and second quarters. Their outside baskets gave the Jazz a 32-20 lead. It sparked a second quarter during which Utah hit 12 of 20 shots and held Cleveland to just five total baskets. The Jazz capped it with back-to-back baskets from Gobert and O’Neale to take a 61-37 halftime lead.
“We didn’t force anything,” Crowder said. “Those guys were doing a good job of going under on pick-and-rolls and shrinking the court as much as possible, trying to take away Rudy’s lobs and things like that. Guys stepped into shots. It was just a matter of us hitting them and it definitely gave us momentum.”
The Cavaliers could not keep up with the Jazz after missing their first 12 3-point shot attempts. They didn’t score an outside basket until Jordan Clarkson knocked one down with 1:34 left before halftime.
Utah didn’t ease up after halftime, extending its lead to as many as 38 points in the third quarter, going up 87-49 on another 3-pointer from Crowder.
BACK IN TOWN
Rodney Hood and Alec Burks both played their first games in Utah since being traded by the Jazz. Hood went to Cleveland in a trade that brought Crowder to the Jazz a year ago. Burks was shipped out to the Cavaliers by Utah in exchange for Korver earlier this season.
It ended up being a tough night back in Salt Lake City for Hood and Burks. The duo combined for 10 points on 4-of-17 shooting. Burks made his first two shots before missing eight of his final nine. Hood scored his lone basket in the second quarter.
The Jazz put up photos of both players with a banner that said ‘Welcome Back’ in the visitors’ locker room before the game.
“They showed me a lot of love,” Burks said. “I was here for 7½ years and they showed their love for me and I appreciate that.”
O’NEALE STEPPING UP
After making a big splash as an undrafted free agent a year ago, O’Neale is proving his worth again. The second-year forward is averaging 10.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 2.6 assists since moving into the starting lineup five games ago. Against the Cavaliers, he was active on the glass and in transition.
It helped O’Neale notch his first double-double of the season.
“That’s the effort (we) see all the time,” Mitchell said. “He’s really proven himself. He’s doing really well throughout this stretch with guys hurt.”
Cavaliers: Tristan Thompson did not play because of left foot soreness. … Cleveland scored 19 points off 19 Jazz turnovers. … Payne has scored in double figures four of his last six games. … The Cavaliers set a season high with 39 fourth-quarter points.
Jazz: Mitchell is averaging 29.0 points per game over his last eight games and has scored at least 24 points in each contest. … Ingles totaled a team-high eight assists. He has led Utah in assists 21 times this season. … Gobert collected his seventh straight double-double and had his third straight game with at least 15 points and 15 rebounds. He’s averaging 16.1 points and 17.9 rebounds over those contests.
Cavaliers: visit the Nuggets on Saturday.
Jazz: host the Trail Blazers on Monday.