In what's becoming a theme of late, Utah is finding itself in many close games as time is winding down.
Entering Sunday afternoon, four of Utah's previous six games had been decided in the final minute — with the Jazz going 2-2 during that span.
Taking on Cleveland, that theme proved to be confirmed as the Jazz once again found themselves in a close contest. But thanks to an emphatic dunk by Rudy Gobert and a tremendous defensive possession by Mike Conley, Utah took down the Cavaliers 109-108 — extending their winning streak to four games.
"It doesn't matter what happens for us for 47 minutes," Donovan Mitchell said postgame. "That last minute, we really did a lot of things right, execution wise. When it's time to lock in, sometimes it's just a matter of will more than anything else."
Here are five things you need to know following the win:
1.) Defense Stands TallConley knew that Darius Garland would have the ball on Cleveland's final possession. Conley even knew what Garland (team-high 31 points) would attempt to do.
It's a good thing Conley knew because he was prepared for what came next.
Leading by one with 17 seconds left, Conley was matched up with Garland, who had 31 points up to that point. But through numerous screens, crossovers and hesitations, Conley stayed glued to Garland's hip and forced the contested three-pointer that missed its mark.
"The last possession, I knew it was going to come to him (Garland)," Conley said postgame. "I knew there was going to be some sort of slip and him getting downhill to his right. We played it right and got him to turn his back. When he gave up the ball, I knew he was going to come back and get it, so I was just trying to chase him and apply pressure as much as possible."
The game wasn't over as Cleveland, with two seven-footers on the court, looked to secure the offensive rebound and get the putback. Gobert knew this as well and made sure to tell his teammates as such.
"We have to get the rebound," Gobert told Royce O'Neale before the final possession.
Although never securing the rebound itself, Gobert and O'Neale helped thwart two Cleveland putback attempts. As the ball bounced around for the third time, the buzzer sounded, and the Jazz escaped with the win.
"I think that's what great teams are able to do at the end of the game," Gobert said. "You're locked in even more, your physicality goes up, communication should go up, and if you need to get a rebound, go get it."
2.) Donovan Mitchell Stays Hot On OffenseKnowing he would have to be aggressive against Cleveland's massive lineup, Mitchell wasted no time in getting off to a hot start on Sunday afternoon.
He scored 15 points in the opening quarter, helping the Jazz find a rhythm on offense. That hot start stayed as Mitchell finished with a game-high 35 points, shooting 12-of-21 from the floor and 4-for-8 from beyond the arc. He added six assists and three rebounds as well, finishing with a +10 rating.
It was Mitchell's third consecutive game scoring at least 30 points, all of which have come with extreme efficiency as he's shot over 50% from the field in each game. During this run, he's averaging 33 points and 5.7 assists during that span, shooting 43.3% (13-for-30) from beyond the arc and 93.3% (14-for-15) from the free throw line.
But what's been most impressive during this stretch isn't how he's been scoring. It's his overall playmaking abilities.
More than just a scorer, Mitchell has done an excellent job of finding his teammates for open shots, often passing up a shot for himself for a great shot for someone else. That selflessness has paid dividends as the Jazz are shooting 52.3% from the field throughout their winning streak.
If Mitchell's scoring wasn't already enough of a problem for defenses in the league, they now have to worry about his distributing abilities as well.
3.) Rudy Gobert Is Playing At An Extremely High LevelEarlier this season, Utah head coach Quin Snyder used the word dominant to describe a game that Conley had played in — all despite shooting the ball just four times.
Snyder, one of the most honest coaches in the league, always speaks the truth, so hearing the word "dominant' is as high of praise as it gets.
Snyder had the same thing to say on Gobert's performance on Sunday afternoon.
With the Cavaliers as the biggest team in the league, often playing at least two players 6-foot-10 or taller simultaneously and sometimes as many as three of them on the court at once, Gobert knew he was going to have his hands full with backup center Hassan Whiteside out.
Despite scoring just six points on six shots, Gobert rose to the challenge.
He grabbed 20 rebounds, dished out three assists, and blocked five shots. His 20 rebounds were two less than Cleveland's starting centers Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley had combined.
"He was dominant. … He's such a presence defensively," Utah head coach Quin Snyder said of Gobert. "There were a few times where he went up strong, and I'd like to see him get to the line more. He's finishing with a lot of explosiveness right now. … He had that one finish where he dunked it over the top of somebody."
Gobert leads the NBA in rebounds (14.7) and true shooting percentage (74.7%) per game while ranking second in blocks (2.3).
4.) Utah Goes Small With Some SuccessFollowing last season's elimination in the playoffs to the Los Angeles Clippers, much talk was made regarding Utah's inability to match teams when they go smaller.
So general manager Justin Zanik and Snyder went out this offseason and added free agent Rudy Gay, a versatile 6-foot-9 forward capable of playing the center position in small lineups.
The idea was to test the theory of going small when opposing teams would do the same with Gobert on the bench. Ironically, that was not the situation that Snyder and the Jazz found themselves in against Cleveland.
With Whiteside out nursing an injury, it meant that all 6-foot-9 of Gay was Utah's second-biggest player on the team. That meant that Utah would have to play small when Gobert rested — not ideal when facing the biggest team in the league.
But the Jazz more than held their own going small as Gay, O'Neale, and Bojan Bogdanovic did a good job of attacking the glass and protecting the paint.
"I thought we did a good job," Snyder said of Utah playing small. "We haven't played small, so to speak with Rudy Gay, and Royce [O'Neale], and Bojan [Bogdanovic] across the front line, I thought particularly in the first half that group had some rhythm."
While there will be growing pains on both sides of the court when going small initially, it's ideal that Snyder gets the chance to address those issues now.
5.) Utah Finding Ways To Close Out GamesTwo weeks ago was one of the Jazz's lowest points of the season.
Despite leading the game in the final minute, they suffered heart-breaking losses to Memphis and New Orleans by one point each. The team couldn't get stops on defense or clean looks on offense.
So when Garland's jumper gave Cleveland a 106-104 lead with 3:10 play on Sunday, completely erasing Utah's 15-point lead earlier in the quarter, it looked as if history was going to repeat itself.
History did repeat itself, but not the same history of those previous two losses.
Much like they did in Friday's victory over Boston, the Jazz locked down on defense and executed their offense to perfection to get the win.
Following Garland's bucket, Conley immediately drained a three-pointer on the ensuing possession to give the Jazz a two-point lead. Gobert then made it a three-point game with just under two minutes to play following his thunderous dunk over Allen.
Garland brought the Cavaliers back within a point with 1:27 to go, but that was the end of the scoring. Utah held Cleveland to 1-for-5 shooting over the final three minutes, including an emphatic block by Gobert with under a minute left.
With the Jazz closing out games to secure wins, especially on the road, this team is proving that they won't have very many weaknesses once the calendar turns to April, May, and June.