Salt Lake City remains nightmare for LeBron, Cavaliers

LeBron James and the Cavaliers failed to get past the Jazz yet again.

The house of horrors that is what is now known as the Vivint Smart Home Arena continues to spook the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Utah Jazz began the second half on what proved to be a decisive 23-3 run and held off a late Cleveland rally to bag a 104-101 triumph on Saturday night.

The loss, the Cavaliers’ third in a row, resulted in an awful 0-3 road trip and spoiled LeBron James‘ 33rd birthday in the process. James-led teams have now dropped seven straight games in Utah and Cleveland dropped to an abysmal 8-39 all-time vs. the Jazz in Salt Lake City, having won just twice in the last 14 seasons.

“I think they turned it up,” James said of Utah’s big third quarter. “They made shots and we missed a lot… we settled a lot for the 3-point shot, I think, in the third quarter.

“We had some good looks, but I think we kind of settled a bit and they just rode that momentum, (forced some) turnovers and, obviously, they play exception basketball at home.”

Rookie Donovan Mitchell, who torched the Cavaliers for 27 points in the first meeting between the two teams on Dec. 16 in Cleveland, lit it up again, leading the Jazz with a game-high 29 points and added four rebounds, six assists, three steals and a block in 39 minutes.

“He’s a player. He’s a player,” James said of Mitchell, who made 10 of 17 form the floor. “Kid got a lot of game and they’ve been riding that wave all season since they realize what they actually got.

“He’s not afraid of the moment. He’s just gone out and played ball. They put him in situations where he can succeed and he’s just trying to take advantage of it.”

Derrick Favors, who did not play against Cleveland two weeks ago because injury, backed Mitchell with 19 points, six boards and three steals, while point guard Ricky Rubio contributed 16 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

James, who fell to 3-4 on games played by his teams on his birthday, led the Cavaliers with 29 points to go with eight rebounds and six assists in 37 minutes. Jeff Green was next in line with 22 points and five rebounds off the bench, while Kevin Love had 20 points and 10 boards.

For Cleveland (24-12), which has now lost three in a row and four out of its last five after reeling off 18 wins in a 19-game stretch, it was one of its AC/DC games — and electrifying start, but a fizzle by the finish.

The Jazz (16-21), who had dropped 10 of their last 12 games coming in, trailed by five points at halftime, 53-48. However, Utah put together its huge third quarter as the Cavaliers made must one of their first 14 field-goal attempts.

Green’s 12 points off the bench helped Cleveland build a 14-point lead at 31-17 late in the first quarter. However, the tide began to turn in the second quarter and the Cavaliers settled for its five-point halftime advantage, which set the stage for what transpired coming out of the locker rooms.

“We didn’t get stops and they made tough shots,” Green said. “That’s pretty much it. Where their shots started to fall and we were turning the ball over, that’s what happens.”

That cold shooting, combined with a lack of effort on the defensive end, helped Utah build a lead that reached as many as 15 points in the third quarter. The Cavaliers’ starters resembled a group of extras from “The Walking Dead” on the defensive end, spending more time with their hands on their hips than in passing lanes and attempting to fight their way through screens.

With nothing to lose, Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue turned to his backups and as they have most of this season, the Cavaliers’ bench responded.

When Lue benched his starters in the third quarter, Tristan Thompson, Dwyane Wade, Kyle Korver and rookie Cedi Osman combined with Green to get the Cavaliers back in it.

“The second unit came in and gave us a great boost, got us back in the game, moving the basketball, getting stops defensively,” Lue said. “Tristan was great, D-Wade was great, Jeff Green was great, so that’s a good sign for us that those guys came in and got us back in the game.”

The Cleveland benched outscored Utah’s second unit, 44-22. The problem was, the Jazz starters crushed their Cavalier counterparts, 82-57, especially to begin the second half.

“We turned the basketball over, we couldn’t make shots,” Lue said. “But I thought defensively, we weren’t really good.”

While not much could be considered “good” on this night, Thompson, in particular, was impressive. Playing his best game of the season, he finished with 11 points, making all four of his field-goal attempts, and adding five rebounds and two blocked shots in 20 high-energy minutes.

“I just thought his energy,” Lue said of Thompson, who is playing himself back into form after missing six weeks with a calf strain. “I thought defensively, he was able to switch.

“I thought D-Wade running pick-and-roll and getting downhill, even though we missed some shots, T-Top was able to clean it up on the glass. That’s what we need — when guys are penetrating and getting into the paint, if the bigs are going to help, T-Top is going to clean it up. So he was great rolling, he was great making the catch (and) passing out for 3’s to Jeff Green, so T-Top was really good.”

Even on a night when not much else was.