CLEVELAND — LeBron James flexed his muscle Tuesday night. Then he led the Cleveland Cavaliers to their seventh straight win.
James tied a season high with 31 points, including 17 to spark a fourth-quarter comeback, and Cleveland rallied for a 118-114 victory over the Utah Jazz.
“Bron is the greatest player in the game,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said. “I don’t think there’s anyone with a higher basketball IQ or a better understanding of the moment.”
Cleveland trailed 95-86 midway through the fourth, but James took over and brought the Quicken Loans Arena crowd to its feet with one of his trademark plays.
With the Cavaliers trailing 95-91, James stole the ball near midcourt and headed to the basket. Rodney Hood wrapped his arms around James, but the four-time MVP made a layup anyway and flexed his bicep as Hood was called for the foul.
James made the foul shot and Cleveland followed with a 10-0 run to go ahead 104-98.
“It was pretty good,” James said with a laugh of Hood’s bear hug.
Utah cut the lead to 107-105, but James hit a hook shot in the lane and split four free throws.
Tristan Thompson’s three-point play off James’ assist and four free throws by Mo Williams, who scored 29 points, sealed the win.
“I felt like the team needed it,” James said of his fourth-quarter play. “They pushed us to the brink. Trying to make a push, see if we could change the momentum.”
James scored seven points in the first half and the team’s struggles continued into the fourth quarter, when it looked like the Jazz were poised to pull the upset.
“First half he wasn’t as engaged as we would’ve liked him to be or as engaged as he normally would be,” Blatt said. “He took over the game and lifted the rest of the guys with him. He did the things that a great player like him, only he can do.”
Alec Burks led Utah with 24 points while Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors each added 17.
Kevin Love scored 22 points for Cleveland, which hasn’t lost since the season opener in Chicago.
Love remained in the game after coming down awkwardly on his left leg while missing a breakaway dunk attempt in the third quarter. He was down behind the baseline for a few moments but stayed in after Cleveland called timeout.
James bruised his left quad Friday against Philadelphia when he scored 31 points and had 13 assists, both season highs. He scored 29 points Sunday against Indiana.
Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith (knee, quad injuries) started after missing three games. He scored seven points in 22 minutes.
“This showed us we could play with anybody,” Hayward said. “We were right there. It was a great experience for us as a team.”
Utah center Rudy Gobert, who scored 15 points, twisted his left ankle in the fourth and left the game. X-rays were negative.
Cleveland committed 17 turnovers, resulting in 29 points.
Utah has the fourth-youngest roster in the league, prompting coach Quin Snyder to laugh when he was asked if the Cavaliers provide a measuring stick. “We’re too young to even have a measuring stick,” he said. “We’re still in the phase where you measure yourself against a wall in your house, then mark it down.”
BACK ON THE COURT
Cleveland center Anderson Varejao scored two points in five minutes after not playing Sunday. “It’s not because he’s not ready to play and not because he’s not a good player because he is both, it’s just the last game called for a certain type of approach,” Blatt said.
Jazz: Utah began a four-game trip, which includes Atlanta, Miami and Orlando. The teams were a combined 20-11 going into Tuesday. … The Jazz haven’t beaten a team with a winning record.
Cavaliers: Smith didn’t have any soreness after a full practice. “The biggest thing is wind, trying to get your wind back,” he said. “There’s no shape like game shape. I think that’s the biggest thing. Other than that, everything should be like riding a bike.”
Jazz: Visit Miami on Thursday.
Cavaliers: Visit New York on Friday.