Gordon Hayward hits buzzer-beater for Jazz win, spoils Cavs comeback (Video)
It is sane to expect the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers to take some time to jell. The man himself anticipated it in his decision-announcing essay back in July, our Kelly Dwyer reminded everyone of it on Wednesday, and anyone who watched the Miami Heat in 2010 knows these super-teams don't turn into wrecking crews right away. That said, the early returns indicate the Cavs may have more to figure out than previously assumed, especially based on Tuesday's big loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
It looked like the Cavs had turned around some of their luck late in Wednesday night's contest against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City. After falling behind by as many as 16 points early in the third quarter, Cleveland bounced back to tie the game at 100-100 with only 3.4 seconds on the clock. That gave the Jazz one last chance before the end of regulation, and Gordon Hayward did not waste it:
Hayward's winner came after a controversial call on the previous possession. Down three points with the clock winding down, LeBron dribbled up the court in transition and goaded Derrick Favors into leaving his feet with a pump fake. Favors fell well short of James, though, which required him to jump into the defender to draw a foul:
NBA rules say that referees should not call a foul when the offensive player initiates contact in this manner, although most of them do not abide by that guideline, especially when the shooter is one of the best players in the sport. Regardless, this whistle looks more like a best-player-of-his-generation call than a superstar call. At least Hayward made it less controversial a few seconds later in finishing off the 102-100 win.
The Jazz deserved to win this game despite some second-half struggles. Hayward and Favors were both terrific, while the team received widespread contributions to shoot 50.6 percent from the field. New head coach Quin Snyder has to be happy with the performance — this team is 2-3 for a reason, but is showing necessary progress already.
The Cavs, of course, would have expected to beat the Jazz, no matter the circumstances. Yet there are some clear problems with this outfit, evinced most obviously by their opponent's shooting percentage and a curiously stagnant offense at the other end. Cleveland had just six assists on the night, with point guard Kyrie Irving having none at all. That total can be explained in part by the vagaries of scoring practices for road teams, but it also speaks to real issues with offensive approach. Like the 2010 Heat, the Cavs often appear to play possessions with a "your-turn-first-my-turn-next" mindset that fails to amplify anyone's talents.
Which isn't to say the Cavaliers are an unmitigated disaster. Irving wasn't great in every area on Wednesday, but he did finish with 34 points on solid shooting (12-of-23 FG, 8-of-10 FT). Plus, LeBron was his fantastic self, scoring 31 points and contributing four assists and three steals. Their second-half comeback was genuinely impressive even if it relied on individual brilliance. Sometimes the team with the most talent looks the best without a peerless game plan.
The Cavs have plenty of time to figure things out before the playoffs. Until they do, though, more teams like the Jazz will give them all they can handle.
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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter!