CLEVELAND — Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue took a deep breath and smiled before beginning his postgame news conference.
He had good reason to feel relieved.
LeBron James scored 17 of his game-high 33 points in the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead free throw, as defending NBA champion Cleveland outlasted the Utah Jazz 91-83 on Thursday night.
The Cavaliers played the final period without starting guards Kyrie Irving (left knee tightness) and Iman Shumpert (left shoulder sprain), but both of their injuries proved to be minor.
“We got out of that one pretty lucky,” Lue said, chuckling. “Kyrie is fine, he’s good, and Shump is day-to-day. It’s nothing serious, so we’ll be fine with those two guys.
“Teams get a lot of nick-knacks and get banged up at times, but it’s part of the game. It’s a long season and we’re not the only ones going through it.”
Irving, who had 21 points and four assists, walked off the court in obvious discomfort after completing the third quarter. The four-time All-Star said he had been bothered by the knee for the “last 48 hours” and exited for precautionary reasons.
Shumpert left the court earlier in the quarter with his left arm hanging limp at his side. He asked to be taken out of the game and headed straight to the locker room, trainers following closely behind.
“When I came out, I went to LeBron and said, ‘You got this?’ and he said, ‘Yeah,’” Irving recounted.
James scored seven consecutive points as part of a 10-0 run midway through the fourth to give Cleveland an 84-77 advantage. He made two free throws, drove between Rudy Gobert and George Hill for a thunderous dunk and buried a 3-pointer.
J.R. Smith then delivered the dagger with 1:10 remaining, draining a 3-pointer off a James feed that put the Cavaliers up 89-83. He playfully spun in circles while jumping backward in celebration.
“Shump was out and Kyrie said he wasn’t coming back, so I knew I had to shoulder the scoring load and be a little bit more aggressive,” said James, who also topped the team with 10 rebounds, six assists and two steals. “I was able to do that.”
Somewhat overshadowed by the drama was the return of Cleveland power forward Kevin Love from left knee surgery. He was limited to 20 minutes by the medical staff, but looked sharp in posting 10 points and nine rebounds in his first action in a month.
Love received a loud ovation from the sellout crowd when he was introduced, which he said erased any nervousness that he had.
“I felt good out there and I’m happy to be back, especially to get one game in front of our home crowd before we go on the road (for four games),” Love said. “When I didn’t have any hiccups along the way, coming back tonight just felt right. It was good.”
Smith chipped in 12 points and a season-high six rebounds off the bench for the Cavaliers (45-22), who lead the Eastern Conference by 2 1/2 games over Boston.
Cleveland made nine threes, giving it a franchise-record 887 for the season. Its previous mark of 880 was set last year.
“When LeBron set me up for that big three at the end, it felt like Christmas,” said Smith, who was 4-of-8 on 3-pointers. “When we’re all knocking down shots like that, it’s tough to beat us.”
Gobert — a 7-foot-1 defensive force — led Utah with 20 points, a game-best 19 rebounds and two blocked shots. All-Star forward Gordon Hayward was limited to 13 points and four assists, while swingmen Joe Johnson and Joe Ingles had 12 points apiece.
The Jazz (43-26), which has the sixth-best record in the NBA, shot .415 from the field and was just 5-of-21 beyond the arc.
“Some days are diamonds, some days are stones,” Hayward said. “Unfortunately, for a lot of us tonight, it was a stone. We couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean.
“But we were right there in the fourth because of our defense when LeBron took over. That’s why he is who he is.”
Cavs 91, Jazz 83
UTAH (83): Ingles 5-12 0-0 12, Johnson 5-12 2-2 12, Hayward 4-14 4-4 13, Gobert 10-13 0-1 20, Hill 3-10 2-3 9, Lyles 1-3 0-0 3, Diaw 2-3 0-2 4, Withey 0-1 0-0 0, Exum 1-5 0-0 2, Burks 3-9 2-2 8. Totals 34-82 10-14 83.
CLEVELAND (91): James 13-20 5-10 33, Love 5-9 0-0 10, Thompson 1-4 0-2 2, Irving 8-19 4-5 21, Shumpert 4-11 0-0 9, Jefferson 0-4 0-0 0, Frye 1-6 0-0 3, Dero.Williams 0-3 1-2 1, Liggins 0-0 0-0 0, Smith 4-10 0-0 12. Totals 36-86 10-19 91.
Utah 20 22 25 16 — 83
Cleveland 29 15 23 24 — 91
3-Point Goals—Utah 5-21 (Ingles 2-5, Lyles 1-1, Hayward 1-4, Hill 1-5, Diaw 0-1, Burks 0-1, Johnson 0-4), Cleveland 9-33 (Smith 4-8, James 2-5, Irving 1-2, Frye 1-5, Shumpert 1-6, Dero.Williams 0-1, Jefferson 0-3, Love 0-3). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Utah 48 (Gobert 19), Cleveland 52 (James 10). Assists—Utah 18 (Ingles, Hayward 4), Cleveland 14 (James 6). Total Fouls—Utah 16, Cleveland 12. A—20,562 (20,562).