Blame it on the somnambulant effect of Imagine Dragons’ “Whatever It Takes” being blared over the loudspeakers as the opening tip music.
How else to explain the Jazz being tied with the historically awful Cavs halfway through the first quarter on Friday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena other than to say they were sleepwalking through the game’s first six minutes on account of the snooze-inducing music?
Fortunately, someone shook Utah’s players awake from their impromptu siesta, and they proceeded to systematically dismantle the Cavs thereafter, to the tune of a not-that-close 115-99 final margin.
Of more significance to Utah than the lopsided blowout itself is that it served as the team’s sixth consecutive victory, and bolstered the team’s overall record to 26-21 on the season.
“A win is a win. … But it’s just all about habits right now,” said Kyle Korver. “We have a nice little stretch going — it’s easy to kinda get comfortable, but we got a lot of big games coming, so we can’t do that.”
The only intrigue after the Jazz ceased and desisted the slow start and broke a 9-9 tie revolved around what kind of gaudy stats might be racked up by Donovan Mitchell (24 points, four assists) and Rudy Gobert (19 points, 15 rebounds, five assists) in minutes limited by both foul trouble and mercy, and how ex-Jazzmen Alec Burks and Rodney Hood would fare in a game that ostensibly was to be a warm-spirited welcome back to Salt Lake City, but which effectively only served to remind them just how far their NBA fortunes have fallen.
For the record, Burks totaled just six points, Hood managed only four, and Cleveland dropped to 9-37.
Still, with the ultimate result made closer by some third-quarter sloppiness and a fourth-quarter Cleveland scoring binge (the Cavs won the period by a 39-22 margin), Jazz coach Quin Snyder managed to come away less than entirely enthused.
“I’d like to see us not give up 50 points in the last 16 minutes of the game,” he said in a one-question postgame news conference. “I think we can do better than that if we’re focused.”
Several of his players conceded it was difficult to maintain peak mental acuity, what with the lead reaching as high as 38 points.
After all, up until the final horn sounded, there was plenty of low-stakes opportunity for the injury-stricken Jazz to experiment with lineups and schemes.
Mitchell continued his evolution as Utah’s primary ballhandler, even managing to connect on a pair of lob passes (which had previously been absent from his repertoire) — the first to Gobert, the latter to Derrick Favors. And even without a true point guard on the active roster, the Jazz still managed a 33-16 advantage in assists for the game.
Rookie Grayson Allen and G League product Georges Niang were given solid rotation minutes, and the defense did not spontaneously combust — well, until the fourth quarter anyway — as Cleveland shot just 38.6 percent for the game, and made only 4 of 21 shots from beyond the 3-point arc for the game.
Plenty of Jazz players got their chance to contribute to the blowout.
Royce O’Neale, firmly entrenched in the starting lineup since Mitchell was moved to the point, continued his strong stretch of play, turning in a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds (plus five assists). Favors, meanwhile, chipped in with his own double-double of 12 points and 10 boards.
Jae Crowder added 11 points, five rebounds, and four assists off the bench, and Joe Ingles had nine points and eight assists.
Still, they all came away suitably chastened by Snyder’s criticism about their lack of focus and precision.
“I’m sure Quin will break down some film [so we can] keep on trying to get better,” Korver acknowledged. “… You wanna play 48 minutes. We played a great first half; the third quarter, maybe a little bit of slippage; and the fourth quarter wasn’t our best. If you wanna be a great team, you gotta be able to play for 48 minutes.”
Presumably more robust challenges come next week, when Western Conference powers Portland and Denver visit Vivint Arena, on Monday and Wednesday, respectively.
That much was on Mitchell’s mind as he conceded it was difficult to keep playing hard with such a big lead, though he quickly noted “it shouldn’t be.
“We really didn’t do well in the second half. It started with the starters in the beginning — turnovers, bad fouls, just a lack of focus that, if it was a closer game, we wouldn’t have,” he added. “So we gotta maintain our focus, ’cause we can’t have that on Monday — or Wednesday, or the rest of the week.”
JAZZ 115, CAVALIERS 99
• Donovan Mitchell totals 24 points and four assists, and Rudy Gobert adds 19 points, 15 rebounds, and five assists — each in about 26 minutes of action.
• The win is Utah’s sixth straight overall, and improves the team to 26-21 on the season.
• Former Jazzmen Alec Burks and Rodney Hood make their return to Salt Lake City with the Cavs, but combine for only 10 points.