The Jazz triumphed over the defending champion Miami Heat, overcoming a big game from LeBron James to win 104-97 in Salt Lake City.
The Heat made a run during the fourth quarter to close the gap to three points, but the Jazz countered with their baby-faced wing Gordon Hayward, who knocked down a dagger to clinch the game for Utah.
“We were able to stay poised, hang in there, and get the win,” Hayward said after the game.
The first quarter started with a few easy looks and dunks for the Heat, but once the Jazz began to increase the intensity of the defensive end, things started to improve.
The team went on a four minute, 14-2 run in the first quarter that was driven by DeMarre Carroll and Al Jefferson, who combined for 17 points and four rebounds in the quarter.
Carroll brought his usual hustle and grit, grabbing offensive rebounds and a steal to finish +8 in four minutes while guarding The King.
The second unit took over in the second quarter, killing the Heat bench in the post. The bench players only missed two shots during the period, giving the Jazz a double digit lead that forced Spoelstra to pull LeBron back off the bench. But the physical defense of James wasn’t enough, as the Jazz would finish the quarter with only three missed field goal attempts.
Hayward played like a top ten pick, converting down low and stroking in jumpers from behind the arc. The young wing finished the half with 12 points, four dimes, and two boards.
The Jazz finished the first half 5 of 6 from distance, helping propel them to a 15 point lead. The 15 point deficit tied for the largest halftime deficit of the season for the Heat.
The Jazz outscored the Heat by 10 in the second quarter, registering an incredible 74.3 eFG percent, well above their season average of 48.5 eFG percent.
James did have 20 points on 8 of 11 shooting during the first half, well on pace to reach his career average against the Jazz of 31 points. With the bench combining for a plus/minus of -53, Coach Spoelstra had to play his starters more minutes in the second half.
The Jazz and Heat are both excellent third-quarter squads, and this quarter was no exception. The Jazz continued to limit baskets, outscoring the Heat to push the lead to 20 before ending the quarter up 84-65. Al Jefferson continued his strong third quarter play, working the right block like a mule to get easy jumpers and earn a few trips to the charity stripe.
The game was briefly interrupted by a raucous fan, who confronted Dwayne Wade on an out-of-bounds play and was ejected from the game. Luckily for him though, judging based on his choice of clothes, he was able to get home early to watch The Bachelor on his TiVo.
LeBron started to go MVP at the beginning of the fourth, but some great drives by Alec Burks in Burks first four minutes helped keep the Jazz offense going with the starters resting for the final minutes.
Jazz went on a 1-13 shooting stretch from the end of the third quarter to the five minute left mark before a big three-pointer by the Fresh Market freedom fighter Gordon Hayward. “Steve” was the only player to contribute points since the 11:15 mark of the fourth quarter, as the Heat went on a 27-5 sprint that closed the game to three points.
With 2:34, Jefferson went to the line and knocked down two free throws to give the Jazz a six point lead. Spoelstra stuck with his bench, leaving Wade and Bosh on the bench, choosing to surround LeBron with shooters and a defensive anchor in Joel Anthony.
Millsap had a huge offensive rebound, and the ball ended up in the hands of “Steve,” who went into the lane, dribbled behind his back, and knocked down a fadeaway to push the lead up to seven. Hayward had 10 of his 22 points during the fourth quarter, making basket after basket to carry the team on his shoulders.
There should be much discussion over Spoelstra’s decision to bench Dwayne Wade, throughout the fourth quarter. Wade had 11 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in 29 minutes, but may have sat just to rest a body that wears down more and more every season.
In the end, this classic game started with a little Junkyard Dog, was accompanied on the journey by Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, and then climaxed with Steve in the final minutes.
The Jazz earned some rest, and we know that Big Al will sleep well tonight after a hard-fought victory.