SALT LAKE CITY: They knew it was coming, their coach told them as much earlier in the day. But the Cavs were still powerless to stop it.
Prior to Tuesday’s 113-105 loss to the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena, coach Byron Scott said his biggest fear entering the game was Jazz center Al Jefferson.
Right on cue, Jefferson had season highs of 30 points and 12 rebounds and power forward Paul Millsap had 19 points before fouling out for the Jazz, who scored a whopping 56 of their 113 points in the paint and won their fifth consecutive game.
“When Al has it going like that, I don’t think there’s anybody in this league who can stop him,” Scott said.
The Cavs have dropped three of four on this lengthy road trip with three more stops to go.
Jefferson is arguably the most dominant, polished center the Cavs have faced to date. They simply didn’t have anyone physically big enough to match up with him. For as aggressive as Anderson Varejao plays, he was still giving up 30 pounds inside.
Scott went to Semih Erden early, but Jefferson scored over top of him with little trouble and Erden struggled offensively, finishing with two points and a rebound in 16 minutes in his second game back from a fractured thumb.
The Cavs tried doubling a big man inside for the first time this season, but it didn’t go well. Jefferson still set up too deep in the key for Scott’s liking and when they did double, Scott didn’t like the angles the Cavs took. Jefferson was able to easily split the double teams and get to the basket at will. He made 13 shots, but only four of them came from beyond 12 feet.
“Al is crafty with the ball and he’s definitely patient, which makes him even more dangerous,” rookie Tristan Thompson said. “He split us a couple times and we have to learn from that. I think it’s the first time we’ve really double-teamed in the post. We just have to get adjusted because we’re going to play more players like that.”
Millsap had 12 points in the first quarter and made all six of his shots before foul trouble slowed him down. Jefferson took it from there. He scored on dunks, short hooks, post-ups and a couple long jumpers. He carried the Jazz to the finish when Millsap fouled out with 5:33 remaining.
“I think we could have done a better job on the defensive end,” Jefferson said. “We let them kind of go back and forth in the first half. But when it was our time to get some stops, we did.”
The Cavs didn’t have a field goal for the final 5:11 of the first half, allowing the Jazz to score 10 of the final 12 points in the second quarter to take a 52-43 lead into the half. A rash of offensive fouls disrupted the rhythm and contributed to the drought while landing Varejao, Kyrie Irving and Gee on the bench with three fouls each.
As has been the case this season, the Cavs (4-5) kept the game competitive most of the night, but didn’t have enough firepower to get the win. They struggled again shooting 3-pointers (4 of 20) and are just 7 of 44 from deep in their last two games.
The Cavs trailed 102-94 when Anthony Parker was called for traveling with 2:19 remaining. Parker thought he was fouled and argued the call and Scott agreed, marching all the way down in front of the Jazz’s bench to stick a finger in the face of official Zach Zarba.
Parker appeared to be initially whistled for a technical, but the technical was switched to Scott when he left the Cavs’ side of the bench.
Irving had 20 points and five assists and Antawn Jamison had 22 points for the Cavs. Jamison made just 3 of 12 shots in the first half, but picked it up a little in the second half.
The bench delivered again behind Ramon Sessions’ 11 points, Gee’s 10 points and Thompson’s nine points and five rebounds.
The Cavs surprisingly shot 14 more free throws than the Jazz, but converted just 31 of 43.
They’ll play at the Phoenix Suns on Thursday and at the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday for the only back-to-back games on this road trip.
“They made that run before they go into the half and we tried to make a comeback in the second half, but they just didn’t fall,” Irving said. “On to the next game.”