Utah Jazz stumble as Cavaliers rally to win
By Bill Oram
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Mar 06 2013 09:32PM
Cleveland • In his days playing alongside LeBron James with the Cavaliers, Mo Williams accumulated plenty of wins in this building.
He almost added one more.
Playing in his first game since undergoing thumb surgery more than two months earlier, the first-year Jazz point guard’s return was nearly elevated from encouraging to heroic.
But after his layup with 5 seconds remaining rattled out, Williams was left to jump up and down on the baseline, pleading with the basketball gods to rethink their verdict.
His team, which was without Al Jefferson for the third straight game, lost 104-101 to the Cavs in front of 12,124 at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Jazz were outscored 12-1 in the final 2½ minutes and Gordon Hayward and Randy Foye both committed turnovers in the last 60 seconds.
"All we had to do was just run our offense and get the ball where we were supposed to get it," Foye said. "... If we did that, it would have took care of everything else."
The mistakes piled up. If they weren’t due to carelessness on the offensive end, they were the product of being too aggressive on defense. The Cavaliers shot 17 free throws in the last quarter and made 15.
"It’s heartbreaking," coach Tyrone Corbin said. "Heartbreaking."
And potentially back-breaking.
The Jazz lost their fourth game in five tries, and for the second time to open this four-game road trip after falling to Milwaukee on Monday in overtime. An already frustrating stretch of the season got even more painful, and the Jazz’s tenuous grip on a playoff spot was loosened as the Los Angeles Lakers overcame a 25-point deficit to win in New Orleans and moved with 11/2 games of the Jazz.
"They’re tough losses," Corbin said. "You don’t want to minimize that, and they’re games we feel like we should have won."
Gordon Hayward led the Jazz with 25 points, 15 of which came in the second quarter, while Enes Kanter added 17 points and seven rebounds off the bench and Paul Millsap complemented 16 points with eight boards.
With his minutes being monitored, Williams scored eight points and added six assists. He also missed a 3-point attempt at the buzzer, but it was the layup that could have prevented the anguish.
The Jazz were down 102-101, and Foye had just blocked a shot by Cleveland All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. Williams weaved through a maze of defenders, saw a hole and got to the basket.
He later said he had taken a "trillion layups" in his career. Each time, the transfer is the same: The ball leaves his hand, hits a mark on the backboard and — and the ball had never behaved like it did on Monday.
"I’ve never seen the layup come out like that," he said. "I haven’t seen the replay, but that was amazing."
Williams has missed game-winners for the Jazz this season, but none toyed with the emotions of Jazz fans in the manner this one did. None so cruelly teased Williams, either, for that matter.
He hadn’t seen game action since Dec. 22, when he tore ligaments in his right thumb in a loss to the Heat in Miami.
Before the dreadful finish, everything seemed to validate Corbin’s decision to move DeMarre Carroll into the starting lineup and the struggling Marvin Williams to the bench.
Even with former Jazz swingman C.J. Miles erupting for 12 points in the fourth quarter, the Jazz were in control. Hayward’s fourth 3-pointer with 3:34 left put them up 96-90, and Millsap added two baskets in the next minute.
The Jazz were headed for a win — a much-needed win — before it unexpectedly, inexplicably, changed course.
"It’s going to be hard to sleep tonight," Foye said.