SALT LAKE CITY — EnergySolutions Arena is notoriously one of the toughest places to play for visiting opponents, mainly because of the loyal Jazz fan base.
But with LeBron James and the rest of the Miami Heat, one of the favorites to win the NBA championship this year, in Utah to take on the Jazz on Friday, the arena was packed with almost as many fans decked in red and black as green and white, which made it clear Jazz fans were not the only devotees present.
Utah led by as much as 18 but Miami fought back in the second half to bring the game within one point. James, who had hit 8 of 9 in the fourth quarter, passed the ball to teammate Udonis Haslem with just seconds left on the game clock. A make would have secured Miami’s 10th straight victory, but the shot fell short, giving the Jazz the 99-98 win over the Heat.
“He was hot; I think he made the right play because he was double-teamed,” Jazz guard Gordon Hayward said of James’ decision to pass the ball instead of take the final shot. “It was a good pass.”
Jazz point guard Devin Harris hit a jumper in the lane with four seconds left to tie the score at 98. As Harris released his shot, Heat guard Dwyane Wade fouled Harrris to put Harris on the line for a chance at a three-point play.
“Al [Jefferson] kicked it out, I looked at the clock with about seven and a half seconds left, I just tried to make the play as best as I could,” Harris said. “I gave him [James] a pump fake and was able to get to the lane and hit a tough shot.”
Miami went into Friday night’s game the winner of nine straight games. Utah had been not as fortunate, finishing with a 4-11 record in the month of February.
After a 27-26 first quarter, Utah came out hot in the second, outscoring Miami 30-18. The Jazz fed off the crowd’s excitement and intensity throughout the second quarter.
“With a team like this, you have got to hit first,” Harris said. “They’re coming out aggressive. Defensively they’re probably one of the best teams in the NBA, so we definitely wanted to get the tempo and get a lead if we could.”
But the second half belonged to the two Miami superstars, Wade and James, who finished with 31 and 35 points, respectively. The duo combined for 24 of the team’s 27 points in the fourth quarter.
“We knew the run was coming, we tried our best to put hands up,” Harris said of the second-half surge by the Heat. “Obviously LeBron is a great player; he made some great shots.”
As the 18-point lead slowly slipped away, it looked as though the Jazz could lose the game, but the team continued to make big plays to keep the score close. Six different Jazz players finished with double digits.
“I can’t say how proud I am of those guys, not putting their head down and continuing to fight and fight and as a result, we made a big play at the end,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “[It was a] great team win for us.”