SALT LAKE CITY: Tired and weary from a 10-day road trip and with the finish line in sight, Cavaliers coach Byron Scott gathered his players at halftime Saturday and told them the importance of beginning the second half with a sense of urgency.
As a result, the Cavs concluded their West Coast trip with a second half reminiscent of so many before it. They were outhustled to loose balls, giving the Utah Jazz two and three looks on offensive possessions. They didn’t defend and they were sent home with a 109-98 loss, wrapping their road trip at 1-4.
“I thought the second half they just played harder than we did. They played a lot harder,” Scott said. “It seemed like they wanted it a lot more than we did. We know they’re an aggressive, physical basketball team. In the first half, I thought we matched that. In the second half, I thought we were overmatched.”
The Jazz shot 50 percent from the floor, meaning three of the five opponents on this trip shot 50 percent or better as the Cavs’ season-long problems defending are obviously continuing.
Kyrie Irving had 18 points and nine assists, but shot just 7 of 20, while Dion Waiters had 23 points. Waiters was a game-time decision because he was sick most of Saturday with the same bug that has torn through the coaching staff and Irving at various points on this trip, but it certainly didn’t hinder his performance.
He spent most of his night attacking the rim, finishing with two powerful dunks and going 10 of 12 from the free-throw line to set career-highs in both makes and attempts.
“I think it’s a cold from the different cities and different weather we’ve been in,” Waiters said. “I was just being aggressive and looking to attack.”
Tyler Zeller had 13 points and a career-high 14 rebounds, while C.J. Miles had 12 points in his return to Utah, but only scored two in the second half.
The Cavs trailed by five at the half, but again unraveled with another difficult third quarter.
After a 3-pointer from Alonzo Gee pulled them within 58-54 early in the third, the Cavs went nearly three minutes without a basket as the Jazz stretched the lead to double figures. A three-point play from Paul Millsap and a 3-pointer from Marvin Williams in a span of 22 seconds stretched the lead to 75-60. The Cavs couldn’t escape the deficit.
“Our guys want to get it going, we just don’t,” Irving said. “We talk about it. Then teams make shots and we don’t respond.”
Irving had a difficult shooting night, missing six of seven shots in the first quarter in a theme that carried throughout the night.
“It was really frustrating for me personally,” Irving said. “All my shots were either hitting the back of the rim or going in and out. That would’ve been the difference in the game for me personally.”
Scott’s pregame focus was keeping the Jazz out of the paint after Al Jefferson blasted the Cavs for 30 points and 12 rebounds on this court last season. Jefferson finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds Saturday, but the Jazz’s bigs overpowered the Cavs.
The Jazz scored 44 points in the paint, 42 of which came after the first quarter.
Utah’s young bigs, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, came off the bench to score 33 points and grab 13 rebounds combined. Favors’ 19 points tied a season high.
“All four of those guys are pretty good in that post,” Scott said. “We just didn’t do a real good job of coming and doubling when we had chances. We left our bigs out there on an island at times. But you have to give them credit. Their bigs are good. They’re a good team.”
Scott called this trip “OK.”
“We had some games where I thought we played three quarters really well. We never really put a whole four quarters together in any of the games on this road trip,” Scott said. “Overall still a lot of growing pains, that’s for sure.”