Having passed a test against one tough defense, the Utah Jazz face another Sunday when they visit the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Cleveland is the second of three straight opponents that rank in the Top 10 among NBA teams in defensive rating. Utah faced the first one in that gauntlet in Salt Lake City on Friday. The Jazz put together one of their finest offensive performances of the season, outlasting Boston for a 137-130 victory.
Utah hit a season-high 27 3-pointers and shot 53% from long distance against the Celtics. It marked the first time this season that an opponent had made 20 or more 3-pointers against Boston.
“This comes from preparation,” said Donovan Mitchell, who led the Jazz with 34 points. “I got to give Coach (Quin Snyder) credit for that too, because we cover every damn situation in practice and shootaround so when we come into a game, it’s like we’ve seen it eight times already.”
Getting some consistency from the outside could mean big things for Utah. The Jazz have shot 40% or better from 3-point range in five games this season. For a team that relies on the outside shot so much, it can be a concerning trend.
More concerning to Utah is that they gave up 30 or more points each of the final three quarters against Boston — including 41 in the third quarter.
“We didn’t defend at the level that we needed to as evidenced by the 41 we gave up in the third quarter,” Snyder said.
Defending at a high level, on the other hand, has been a crucial ingredient in a recipe for success for Cleveland.
The Cavaliers are seeking their fifth straight victory when they face the Jazz. Over its last four games, Cleveland has allowed just 93.5 points per game, and has held its last 13 opponents under 40% shooting from 3-point range, the longest active streak in the NBA.
Cleveland has beaten its last four opponents in emphatic fashion as well, with winning margins of 13 over Orlando, 18 over Dallas, 26 over Miami, and 15 over Washington.
“These weren’t easy teams. These weren’t necessarily teams that are not making the playoffs,” forward Jarrett Allen said, who tallied 28 points and 13 rebounds against the Wizards for his sixth straight double-double. “Every one of these teams are fighting for something, and we came in here, and it was really all blowouts.”
Cleveland led by as many as 36 points against Washington after going on a 19-0 run that spanned the end of the second quarter and the start of the third.
Keeping their defensive success going against Utah — one of the league’s top offensive teams — matters to the Cavaliers, who are eager to prove they have staying power in the Eastern Conference.
We’re not satisfied,” Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “We know that we have a long way to go. The NBA season is a long season, and you can find pockets of success, you can find pockets of failure, but it’s how consistent you are over the 82.”