SALT LAKE CITY — Donovan Mitchell didn’t play in the fourth quarter. And he probably didn’t have to play in the third quarter, either.
It was all too easy for the Utah Jazz on Friday night at Vivint Arena. Utah defeated Cleveland 115-99 in a game that wasn’t that close.
Mitchell had 24 points and 4 assists in 26 minutes and Rudy Gobert added 19 points and 15 rebounds to help the Jazz (26-21) to their sixth straight victory.
And it was Gobert’s third quarter that showed just how dominant Utah was against the Cavs — at least when it wanted to be.
Gobert scored 13 points in the third as he just dominated inside. The Cavs were without Tristian Thompson and didn’t have another body that could come close to checking Gobert. All the Jazz had to do was loft it inside to Gobert and he did the rest. Gobert was 8-for-10 from the field in the win.
It was a continuation of Gobert's recent run of impressive performance that has the Jazz center making a strong case to be included in the 2019 NBA All-Star Game. He’s averaging 14.6 points and 15.2 rebounds in January while also anchoring what has become the league’s best defense.
“Rudy is playing at such a high level,” said Kyle Korver, who finished with 7 points. “He wants the paint. He’s demanding. ‘Don’t worry about this, I got all this, take care of the 3s, take care of the jump shots, this area is mine.’ I have never been around a big that said it so bluntly and meant it. He’s just playing at a really high level.”
Gobert likely could have had has his third straight game of 20-plus rebounds, but he didn’t need to keep playing. The Jazz built a 38-point lead in the third quarter — that was enough for Gobert to be able to rest for the final quarter.
“He is the Defensive Player of the Year for a reason,” said Cleveland’s Alec Burks, who was playing his first game in Utah since being traded early this season. “He changes the game offensively and defensively. He’s gotten so much better than when I first met him six years ago, or five years ago. He has grown into the player that he is today and you can’t do nothing but respect that. Got to give credit where credit is due.”
Led by Gobert and Mitchell, the Jazz, as a whole, are playing at a high level. Utah has won 9 of 11 and six of those wins have been by double-digits. What’s more impressive is they have done most of that winning by plugging in players into new roles.
Royce O’Neale has been thrust into the starting lineup and, once again, was up to the task against the Cavs. O’Neale had 16 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists in the win.
“He did his thing tonight,” Mitchell said. “He played his butt off from beginning to end. He was active on the boards and he was running in transition, playing defense and that’s the effort that we see all the time. He’s really proving himself. He is really doing really well through the stretch where guys are hurt. He’s the same Royce that we have always seen.”
And O’Neale would even agree with that.
“Not doing anything extra — just playing my game,” he said. “Just being myself.”
Cleveland shot just 41.4 percent from the field and 29.2 percent from behind the 3-point line — the Cavs missed their first 12 3-pointers. Cleveland scored 39 points in the fourth quarter to make the score respectable. The Cavs outscored the Jazz by 17 points in the meaningless final quarter.
It all made it a bit of a sour homecoming for Burks and Rodney Hood. The two former Jazz players got a nice ovation during pregame introductions from the Utah crowd, and that ended up being the highlight of the night for the pair. Burks had 6 points on 3-for-11 shooting and Hood finished with 4 points and was 1-for-6 from the field in their first game back in Utah.
“(Utah) showed me a lot of love,” Burks said. “I was here for seven-and-a-half seasons and they showed their love for me and I appreciate that.”