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Birthday letdown: Jazz top Cavs, spoil James’ celebration

/ 01:33 PM December 31, 2017

Utah Jazz forward Thabo Sefolosha, left, guards against Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, right, in the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Alex Goodlett)

SALT LAKE CITY — There’s no longer any surprise in the Jazz locker room when Donovan Mitchell takes over a game. Teammates have begun to expect it from the rookie, whose latest feat was to outduel LeBron James on the four-time MVP’s 33rd birthday.

Mitchell scored 29 points, and Utah handed James and the Cleveland Cavaliers their third straight defeat, 104-101 on Saturday night.

“Just have no conscience when it comes to certain things,” Mitchell said. “I missed a few shots that I normally make and just moving on to the next shot, making the right play at the right time. Just treating the last two minutes the same as the first two.

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“If you overthink it, that’s the first mistake right there.”

James had 29 points, eight rebounds and six assists as his personal losing streak at Utah extended to seven games, four of them with Cleveland. The Cavs’ three-game losing streak is their second this season.

Mitchell blew by J.R. Smith and made a layup in traffic over James with 35 seconds remaining to give the Jazz a 100-97 lead. James then missed a layup, and Utah finished off the game from the free-throw line. The Jazz snapped a three-game losing streak.

Mitchell shot 10 for 17 from the field. Ricky Rubio had 16 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

“He’s a player,” James said. “The kid had a lot of game and they’ve been riding that wave all season since they realized what they actually got. He’s not afraid of the moment. They put him in situations where he can succeed and he tries to take advantage of it.”

James did not record a point or an assist during the game-changing third quarter, which Utah opened with a 23-3 run. Cleveland connected on just 4 of 19 shots in the quarter.

“We turned the basketball over, we couldn’t make shots,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “I just thought defensively we weren’t very good. Second unit gave us a great boost and got us back in the game, moving the basketball, getting stops defensively.

“Tristan (Thompson) was great, (Dwyane) Wade was great, Jeff Green was great. So that was a good sign for those guys to get us back in the game.”

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James powered the Cavaliers’ late rally, but the Jazz were able to hold on.

The Cavs led by 10 at the end of the first quarter. Utah chipped away in the second and trailed 53-48 at halftime.

“We played very well defensively in the third quarter,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “Thabo (Sefolosha), he’s competitive. We know what kind of defender he is. He’d be the first person to tell you LeBron is special and there’s nobody more unique. You just do the best you can and hope for the best.”

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: Lue said Isaiah Thomas (hip), who has not played this season, looked good during a Friday scrimmage and felt good Saturday. Doctors have not yet cleared Thomas to play, Lue said.

Jazz: C Rudy Gobert was re-evaluated Saturday and will miss at least two more weeks with a sprained PCL.

BRUTAL STRETCH

The Jazz had lost 10 of 12 while playing a brutal schedule that included 11 games against teams in position to make the playoffs. Snyder acknowledged there’s been a psychological toll, but said the team is resilient.

“We try to make it about more than winning and losing,” Snyder said. “I think a focus on the process or improving and those things.

“I don’t sense us being incredibly despondent. But that doesn’t mean there’s not some psychological toll that’s taken a little bit.”

BIRTHDAY MEMORIES

James was in a storytelling mood at the pregame shoot-around when asked about his favorite birthdays. He enjoyed turning 18 but said there was “this false notion that you’re a grown man.” Even James couldn’t do whatever he wanted.

“There was always certain clubs and stuff I used to go to and they were like, ‘Come on LeBron, we know you’re not 21,'” James said with a laugh. “‘We cannot let you in here and mess up our liquor license.’ So 21 was pretty cool, too. … I turned 21 and went to Vegas and that summer. I was like, back then I was so happy to show my card! ‘I’m 21, let me up in here! I’m up in here!'”

Fake identification wasn’t an option, considering he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated before he was 18.

“I wish,” James said. “Who was I going to be?”

UP NEXT

Cavaliers: Host the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday.

Jazz: Host the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday.

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