Remarkably, for the last 6 years, the games against NBA MVP LeBron James' team have been phenomenal to watch. A recap of 6 of those games, and the performances that made them.
LeBron James has been in the Eastern Conference his entire career, and therefore only "gets" to play against the Jazz twice per season. Of his 12 games, 7 have been within 5 points, and that stat somehow significantly underestimates how exciting those games have been. Ahead of tonight's Jazz vs. LeBron matchup, we take a look at the last 6 seasons of basketball magic.
2006-07 season: Giricek Holds Off LeBron (Jazz 99 - Cavs 98)
The Jazz gave LeBron's Cavaliers a 12 point lead by the end of the first quarter, but spent the rest of the game fighting back: the advantage was just 7 by half, and 4 by the end of the 4th. With Boozer out and Collins starting, Sloan played the whole 4th quarter with Okur, Millsap, and Kirilenko. The decision turned out to be brilliant, as the Jazz pulled off 12-3 and 8-0 runs in the 4th to take the lead. Deron Williams and Mehmet Okur were excellent, scoring 13 and 11 points, respectively.
The key, incredibly strangely, was Sloan's decision to have Gordan Giricek guard LeBron James. Somehow, Giricek held LeBron to just 4 points in the 4th quarter. The Jazz got a 7 point lead with 1:52 left, but the Cavs went on a 6-0 run, giving the Jazz the ball with a 1 point lead and 28 seconds left. Deron got a 6 foot shot off with 4 seconds left, which missed, but Paul Millsap somehow got the offensive rebound, lost it to Sasha Pavlovic, who got off a 37 footer with 0.1 seconds left as he collided with Giricek. While the shot missed, Pavlovic and the Cavs would complain about the non-call after the game. This marked Deron's career-high at the time, scoring 33 points and garnering 12 assists to go with his tremendous performance.
2007-08 season: Deron's Last Second Layup Wins the Game (Jazz 103 - Cavs 101)
This game was sort of the opposite as the last: the Jazz had the lead largely throughout, losing it for only 46 seconds in the 3rd quarter. However, the Cavs went on a run in the 4th, spurred on by a 16 point 4th quarter performance by LeBron James, finishing out a triple-double 32 points, 15 rebound, 13 assist(!) performance. LeBron hit an incredibly tough 3 to tie the game with 6 seconds left, but, without a timeout, Deron Williams weaved from coast-to-coast to hit the game winning layup with 1.3 seconds left, and no Cavaliers timeouts.
Deron then celebrated, circling around the arena high-fiving the fans, a shot that would be shown in highlight videos for years to come. Besides Deron's 15 points and 12 assists and Boozer's 23 points, 12 rebounds, Paul Millsap had a great game off the bench for the Jazz, leading them with 24 points on 8 shots (his career high), garnering 5 rebounds and 5 steals as well.
2008-09 season: Lebron Shines Again (Cavs 102 - Jazz 97)
The Cavs started with a great 1st quarter and a 10 point lead, but Sloan responded with a Knight/Korver/Harpring/Millsap/Koufos lineup, which promptly went on a 13-1 run to take the lead. Again, in the third, the starters struggled, getting down to an 8 point deficit after the 3rd, but again the bench went on a 12-0 run to pull ahead yet again. Then, though, the starters went cold: Deron and Okur had three 3 point attempts between them to tie the game in the final minute, but missed all off them to give LeBron and the Cavs the game. In the end, LeBron's 33 point, 14 rebound, 9 assist performance outshined excellent games from Deron Williams (17 points, 16 assists) and Paul Millsap (24 points, 15 rebounds).
2009-10 season: Sundiata Gaines Becomes a Hero (Jazz 97 - Cavs 96)
I mean, how do you talk about this game? It's cognitively impossible to even think about this game without turning into a smoldering pile of blubbering emotions. It's easily the best game I've ever been to. They could make a movie out of this game. In the 4th quarter alone, there was time for a 23-3 Jazz run led by recent D-League call-up Sundiata Gaines (replacing an injured Deron Williams), and a 20-2 run led by league MVP LeBron James. Down 6, the Jazz went on a 12-5 run in the last 30 seconds of the game(!) culminating in Gaines' shot.
But, seriously, just watch the videos above. Watch the whole game again if you can. It's... I... don't... Wow.
2010-11 season: The Miracle in Miami (Jazz 116 - Cavs 114)
The Jazz were down 19 at the half, but fought back in the 3rd and especially at the beginning of the 4th, with a 19-4 run led by a Watson/Deron/Miles/Millsap/Fesenko lineup to take the lead before the Heat countered with a 9-0 run of their own. Down 8 with just 38 seconds left, the Jazz went on a 14-6 run, with 11 of those points being scored by Paul Millsap in just 28 seconds, 9 of those from the three-point line. This was especially remarkable because he had only made 2 threes in the previous 475500 seconds of his career. The 4th quarter had finished, but the game wasn't done yet, with the Heat controlling play in overtime before a Jazz 7-0 run finished the Heat off with some accidentally made Francisco Elson free throws.
Millsap finished with 46 points in a new career high, Williams finished with 21 points and 14 assists, and Fesenko played well while also managing to commit 5 fouls in one quarter.
2011-12 season: Devin Harris' Shot Saves Jazz (Jazz 99 - Heat 98)
The Jazz played well in the first half of this game, eventually taking a 71-54 lead over the Heat in the 3rd quarter on the strength of their strong fast-breaking play. Then, though, the Heat came back, largely on the strength of LeBron James 17 points in the 4th. This included two ridiculous shots, a pull-up three to take the lead with 1:10 left to take a 95-94 lead, then a off balance shot with a foot on the line 40 seconds later to make the game 97-94. Then, though, an Al Jefferson putback bucket, then a Devin Harris 16-foot floater and-one gave the Jazz the win.
This game, nationally, is mostly remembered for perpetuating the criminally insane "LeBron is unclutch" theme, because he passed the ball to Haslem for the last shot, rather than taking it himself. This also came right after his turnover at the end of the All-Star game, when he passed the ball in a similar situation. This was ridiculous, is still ridiculous, and remains an incredibly dumb way to interpret this game. LeBron was 8-9 in the 4th quarter, including making 2 incredible shots to give his team the lead. Do you know who really lost the Heat this game? Dwyane Wade. He was just 2-6 in the 4th, fouled Devin Harris with 2 minutes left on a three point shot (dumb), missed 1 of 2 free throws, which could have given the Heat an only-matchable 3 point lead (bad), and then fouled Harris again with 5 seconds left to make Harris' shot the game winner(horrendous). But no, LeBron got the blame. NBA land can be an absurdly illogical place.
Tonight, then, the Jazz take on LeBron again, 3 years after the date of the Sundiata Gaines shot. While much has changed in the last six years, if history has anything to say about it, the game will include a finish to remember.