Mar 5, 2012; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (2) stands at center court during a game against the Utah Jazz at Quicken Loans Arena. Utah won 109-100. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Cavaliers beat Jazz 104-101 in thriller

For three quarters, Cleveland Cavaliers star Kyrie Irving simply was not himself. He looked out of rhythm, a little lethargic and was shooting well below 50 percent from the field.

But as we’ve come to expect, Irving took over in the fourth quarter. Coming back into the game with 7:26 left to play, the Duke product scored 11 points down the stretch to lead the Cavaliers back from an 11-point deficit as the Cavaliers defeated the Utah 104-101.

To win the game, the Cavaliers went on 12-1 run to seal the comeback – as well as survive a coast-to-coast drive from former Cavalier Mo Williams, who was playing his first game since December 22nd.

To quote Cavaliers coach Byron Scott, the Cavaliers should consider themselves lucky to have won this gam

Irving finished the game with a team high 20 points and 10 assists, with Tristan Thompson adding 16 points and 12 rebounds. Wayne Ellington, starting his second straight game for the sick Dion Waiters, also added 16. Gordon Hayward led the Jazz with 24 points off the bench.

Outside of the fourth, the first quarter was the strongest for the Cavaliers. Even though Irving struggled mightily, the Cavaliers won the quarter by a score of 23-19. Going against a very formidable Jazz frontcourt (even without Al Jefferson), Tristan Thompson was aggressive against Paul Millsap, and was largely effective early. Sans a few buckets from Ellington, Thompson was the one Cavalier to play a steady opening quarter, as he scored seven points and four rebounds.

From there, however, the Cavaliers level of play largely decreased and the Jazz took full advantage. With the second unit in, the Cavaliers originally stretched the lead out a bit – only to have it slowly taken away by Utah’s second unit. Lead by Hayward, the Jazz started making shots and took the lead. With the deficit growing as high as six, Cleveland could not take really get back in the groove.

To make matters even more troublesome, no Cavalier reached double-digit scoring until Ellington hit a three-pointer with 6:41 to give him 12 points. Also, the Jazz held a 10-1 advantage in fast break points through two quarters – an area the Cavs usually thrive in. At the half, Cleveland trailed the Jazz by a score 51-49.

In the third, it got even more out of hand for the Cavs. Randy Foye, who hit three threes the last time the Cavaliers took on the Jazz, did the exact same in the third quarter. Lead by Foye and Heyward, the Jazz’s bench play carried over into the third. By the end of the period, the Cavaliers found themselves down by a score of 76-68.

In fourth, with neither team really playing defense, the Cavaliers somehow found their way back into the game. Time and time again, they would make mini-runs to come within three points only to have the Jazz score two quick buckets to extend the lead. On one such sequence, C.J. Miles (who scored 11 points in the fourth) hit back-to-back threes only to have them nullified by the Jazz. When finally got going, he missed a free throw that could have been a deathblow. But due to some sheer luck and some now standard brilliance from the young blood, the wine & gold were able to pull this game out.

As usual, there were things to both like and dislike coming out of this game. As Zak Kolesar pointed out the other day, the Cavaliers again mightily struggled in the third quarter. The Cavaliers bench (a strength of late) was outscored 56-34 and the Cavs were also were outscored in fast break points 16 to five.

But on the flip side, the Cavaliers did out-rebound the Jazz by 11 and also committed four less turnovers.  And perhaps most importantly, the Cavaliers were able to bounce back from the collapse the suffered against the Knicks the other night. Even though they played sluggish at times, there was no apparent hangover from that disappointing loss. That’s a good sign for team that 1) was again not a full strength and 2) had to dig deep to pull this game out.

Let us also remember that this was a tough game for Irving before that fourth quarter. He was not shooting well at all up until the fourth and finished shooting an even 35 percent from the field. But in that fourth quarter he was once again superb and reminded us all that he is truly one of the leagues best young talents.

Lastly, this win helps the Los Angeles Lakers make the playoffs, as they are chasing the Jazz out in the Western Conference for a playoff bid. Remember: If the Lakers make the playoffs, the Cavaliers will get their first round draft this June. If not, the Lakers hold onto it.

The Cavaliers will next take the court against the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. Tip-off is at 7:30 PM, live from Quicken Loans Arena.

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Tags: Cleveland Cavaliers Gordon Hayward Kyrie Irving Tristan Thompson Utah Jazz

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