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'It's weird': With no centers, Jazz lose 4th straight game in loss to Cavs

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Quin Snyder paused.

It was two hours before tipoff and the Jazz head coach was asked what the plan was for the center position. See, all four of Utah's big men had been ruled out of Wednesday's game against Cleveland as COVID-19 continues to run through the team.

"Well," Snyder began, "it's a position."

The comment drew laughs. Even Snyder smiled a bit. It was an admission of the perilous situation the Jazz found themselves in. A team whose system is built almost completely around a big man didn't have one.

If anything, it made for a fun experiment.

For a half, the Jazz held their own against the longer and taller Cavaliers — the Eastern Conference upstarts have three players 6-foot-11 or taller in their starting lineup — but eventually height won out.

Cleveland went on a 21-0 run in the third quarter on its way to a 111-91 victory Wednesday at Vivint Arena.

It was the fourth straight loss for the Jazz, all of which came in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak.

The Jazz were without Rudy Gobert, Rudy Gay, Hassan Whiteside, Udoka Azubuike, Elijah Hughes and Jared Butler due to positive COVID tests. On top of that, 10-day players Norvel Pelle and Danuel House Jr. were out with non-COVID illnesses.

All in all, the Jazz had 10 players available at the start of the game, and none of them were over 6-foot-8. That number dropped to nine when Joe Ingles was ejected following two first-half technicals.

That meant Utah's system was scrapped. On defense, there wasn't a player to funnel anything to. On offense, there wasn't a screener to get everything moving. So it was a new look Jazz.

"It's weird," said Donovan Mitchell, who finished with 17 points on 16 shots. "If we're being honest, today was just weird as hell."

The team switched everything on defense and matchup hunted on offense. Surprisingly, it worked well enough for two quarters.

Eric Paschall had 16 of his 18 points in the first half, bullying his way into the paint and scoring over longer defenders, and the Jazz defense held up well enough. Utah was down just 58-52 at the half.

So what worked, exactly?

In some ways, the Jazz did to the Cavs what many teams have done to them. They spaced out Cleveland's rim protectors to the corners and then put their heads down and drove to the paint.

"If they stay with shooters, which they did, especially early in the game, we're gonna have the rim," Snyder said. "So you play differently."

The Jazz had 18 points in the paint in the first quarter alone.

In the third quarter, though, height won out. Cleveland went on a 21-0 run to put the clamps on the game.

Utah missed several open looks and drives ended in wild layup attempts — not a good combination. On the other end, Lamar Stevens became an unlikely hero and scored 13 straight points during the run. He finished with 23 points on the night. Cavs star guard Darius Garland had a triple-double, which included 11 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high 15 assists.

For a Jazz team with hardly any margin for error, it was all too much to overcome, especially since Utah struggled from the field, shooting 40% and 34% from 3-point range.

"It's tough when you don't have a five who knows how to play the five — Royce (O'Neale), EP did a phenomenal job holding down the new guys came in and did a phenomenal job of just scrapping and competing. That's all we can do, given the circumstances," Mitchell said.

How long will those circumstances last? The Jazz get a fortunate-timed three days off, which should give guys some time to get back — maybe, then, the losing streak can come to an end.


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