Shaq-less Cavs beat Jazz behind James
After LeBron James finished off Utah, Cleveland coach Mike Brown called him Rembrandt. After James did it to Miami on Thursday night, Brown called him Picasso.
Regardless of the artist, James is doing his best work in the paint.
His three-point play on a drive to the basket Saturday night with 28.8 seconds remaining lifted short-handed Cleveland to a 107-103 victory over the Jazz.
James was six of 15 from the field, but scored seven points in the last 28.8 seconds to finish with 21. He also had six rebounds and nine assists. Cleveland (7-3), which was playing without Shaquille O’Neal, has won four straight.
“The way that he has closed these last couple of games has been remarkable,” Brown said. “He’s closing games with a killer instinct.”
James scored Cleveland’s final eight points over the last 2:42 to beat Miami on Thursday. Against the Jazz, he did it again — scoring the team’s final eight points over the last minute.
“Anytime the game is close or I feel like we have an opportunity to win, I hit the switch and say ‘It’s time to get going. It’s time for you to lead this team,”‘ James said. “That’s what I’m here for. I’m not afraid of the moment. I kind of live for it.”
J.J. Hickson set a career high with 20 points, and Mo Williams added 21 for Cleveland.
Carlos Boozer scored 25 points for Utah (4-6), which dressed just nine players for the second straight game. The Jazz were again without starting point guard Deron Williams, who missed his second game while dealing with a medical issue regarding his daughter.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan doesn’t know when Williams will rejoin the team. Utah’s next game is Wednesday night at home against Toronto. The loss to Cleveland completed a 2-2 road trip for the short-handed Jazz.
“Nobody cares what we’ve done,” Sloan said. “We’ve got to go home and get ready to play again and not worry about who’s here and all that stuff you can’t talk about. I’ll tell you what you can talk about, playing and winning basketball games.”
The Cavaliers’ three-point shooting — they were 7-for-14 in the first half — staked them to a 16-point lead early in the second quarter. Utah didn’t take its first lead until a pair of Boozer free throws with 1:56 remaining.
Eric Maynor, starting again for Utah in place of Williams, scored a career-high 24 points. Okur, Wesley Matthews and Andrei Kirilenko each added 13 for the Jazz.
Utah couldn’t hold off James, who aligned Cleveland’s defense coming out of a critical timeout. His three-point play gave the Cavaliers a 103-101 advantage, prompting the Jazz to call a 20-second timeout. As Cleveland aligned defensively, James positioned Anthony Parker down low while he remained high to guard against a 3-pointer.
The plan worked. Utah fumbled the inbounds pass before Kirilenko hoisted a hurried 3-pointer that missed badly.
“What he told our guys to do on the floor at the end of the game was awesome,” Brown said. “LeBron defensively as a coach on the last couple of plays was off the charts. It speaks volumes about his intelligence and his feel for the game. He put everyone in the right spot. And I thanked him for that.”
It was Cleveland’s fourth straight win against Utah and sixth straight at home. Utah hasn’t won in Cleveland since 2004.
O’Neal missed the game because of a strained shoulder, but Hickson set a career high in points for the second straight game. He had 18 against Miami, but topped that against the Jazz with dunks, tip-ins and athleticism around the basket.
“I don’t think I called a play for J.J. and I don’t know if I will,” Brown said. “He’s filling his role. He’s playing off others.”
Hickson spent the summer tagging along with James, who invited the second-year forward to travel the world with him so they could work on his game together.
“I understand my role. I think that’s a big part of it,” said Hickson, who was making his fourth start. “I’m going to take full advantage until (opponents) start respecting me.”
NOTES: Cleveland also was without Delonte West, who missed his third straight game. West has been in and out of the lineup this year as he deals with personal issues. … Utah’s last victory in Cleveland was March 19, 2004. … James isn’t interested in creating a legacy with an original number. James, who wants to relinquish his No. 23 as a tribute to Michael Jordan, would likely wear No. 6 next season. He would be following another star in Julius Erving, who wore No. 6 with the Philadelphia 76ers. “It’s nothing about who made it famous,” James said. “Six is just another number that I like.”