Tonight, the Cleveland Cavaliers continued their five-game road trip with their latest stop in Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Jazz. After a strong win on Sunday night over the Phoenix Suns, the Cavaliers were carrying a lot of positive momentum into Salt Lake City, which is considered by many to be one of the toughest places to play in the NBA. In the end, the Cavaliers blew a five-point lead, losing to the Jazz 116-111.
Let’s dive into some of the key takeaways from this game.
Donovan Mitchell’s homecoming didn’t disappoint
From the moment he joined the Cavaliers, Donovan Mitchell shared that him being on a new team would keep hitting him in waves. Or, as Mitchell so eloquently put it, he’d have his “Oh, shit!” moments. It first hit when he took to the hardwood of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse for the first time as a Cavalier. It hit again when he and the Cavaliers took to Madison Square Garden to play the New York Knicks, Mitchell’s childhood team. For a third time, it hit when Cleveland hosted the Jazz, his former team, back in December.
On Tuesday night, meanwhile, it hit for a fourth time as Mitchell returned to Salt Lake City for the first time as an opponent. Mitchell didn’t disappoint and had 46 points on 51.9% shooting along with 4 rebounds and 6 assists for the Cavaliers. By the game ended, Mitchell scored or assisted on 59 points for Cleveland, who scored 114 total.
For those at home, that means Mitchell was involved in 51.7% of all scoring plays. Time and again, Mitchell has been the engine driving the Cavaliers on offense. Tonight was no exception but, considering the circumstances, certainly makes things more significant.
No Jarrett Allen, a lot of problems on defense
Jarrett Allen has been underrated this season as a defensive player. In fact, he’s the perfect foil to Mitchell whereas Allen acts as the defensive anchor and has helped lead the Cavaliers to one of the NBA’s top overall defenses.
In the first half against the Jazz, Allen’s availability went from active to questionable due to an illness. Maybe he ate pizza from the same place Michael Jordan had it during the 1997 NBA Finals. Nevertheless, Allen didn’t start the second half and the Cavaliers went with Caris LeVert and Lamar Stevens in the starting unit. Stevens, who was in foul trouble, was soon replaced by Okoro, forcing the Cavaliers to go small.
Regardless of the size of Cleveland’s lineups, Utah exploited the lack of Allen on the interior and constantly attacked Evan Mobley, challenging him to carry his usual responsibilities as well as masquerade as an Allen replacement. Overall, the Jazz had 48 points on the interior and when the Cavaliers tried to collapse, Utah would instead burn them on the perimeter, scoring 30 points from three-point range.
Hopefully, Allen is okay in time for Portland on Thursday since Cleveland looks lost at times on defense without him.
Cleveland’s road woes seem to still be an issue.
Despite the strong game the other night against the Suns, the Cavaliers struggled all night long against the Jazz. But, what’s different from some of Cleveland’s uglier road losses, the Cavaliers were able to find a way to dig deep and try and remain competitive. That’s impressive, especially with Jarrett Allen hardly playing in this game.
But, with the Cavaliers leading by five with less than 90 seconds to go, Caris LeVert bit on two Jordan Clarkson pump fakes and Cleveland saw their lead evaporate.
It’s not about wins and losses. It’s about wins and lessons and boy, this was a tough one.
Up next: The Cavs stay on the road and head up to The Rose City to take on the Portland Trail Blazers. Tipoff is at 10 PM EST.