Long Story Short: As expect the Blazers get dismissed by the Jazz in a game where the offense clicked but couldn't make up for the lack of interior defense.
Well, if you've ever sat up late at night thinking, "I wonder what would happen if nobody guarded Mehmet Okur..." wonder no more. The answer is 11-13 shooting and 28 points, a line atypical of Okur but typical of the way the Jazz exploit Portland's current lack of interior presence.
Normally I talk about the flow of the game as I recap but I'm not sure that's even necessary tonight. The story stayed about the same throughout. Portland actually played well, especially compared to last week's game where the Jazz drubbed them mercilessly. The Blazers hustled, poked away 7 steals, got a boatload of offensive rebounds (16), and scored 16 fast break points, beating Utah in that category by 1. On many possessions the Blazers got good shots, either easy buckets at the rim or open jumpers. Sometimes they were forced into deep shots against the clock but it's not like the Jazz were stifling them all night. Portland shot 42.5% for the night, hit 8-19 from the arc (42%), and drew 28 foul shots, hitting 23. But for a few sloppy turnovers in transition their numbers would have been even better. Portland's overall turnovers numbered only 8 though, so it's not like they were loose with the ball.
But here's the other shoe dropping. The Jazz demolished the Blazers inside off of cuts and drives. Every quarter provided multiple highlight-worthy passes followed by dunks. They just never stopped. Okur butchered Aldridge from the outside and Howard on the inside. Kirilenko, playing power forward, got free from everyone the Blazers sent. Portland's guards couldn't contain either and they weren't consistently alert getting back in transition. Utah had 62 points in the paint and shot 62.7% overall. No matter how well Portland's offense was clicking they weren't going to generate enough points to overcome that kind of flow. To wit: the Blazers once again out-attempted Utah by a vast margin, 87 shots to 67 but the Jazz had 5 more field goal makes. Even though 16 offensive rebounds sounds (and is) impressive that also meant 16 missed shots to get them plus more missed shots afterwards. Add in 29-32 free throw shooting for Utah because of their strong interior presence and motion and the Blazers never really had a chance.
Though the game had peaks and valleys Portland never got miserably outplayed. It's not like the Jazz went on a 20-2 run the Blazers couldn't answer. But Utah scored 29, 31, 28, and 30 in their four periods while the Blazers only managed 27, 25, 25, and 28. Utah won every quarter...not by a lot, but when you win every one you don't need to win by a lot to make the game comfortable.
This matchup makes me really, really miss Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla. I'm not saying Utah couldn't have won one or both of the two tilts we've seen in the last week had our centers been playing. They might well have won those games anyway. But they wouldn't have looked like this. At it was, the Blazers were trying to swim across the Columbia tonight. The goal looks achievable point-to-point if the effort is there but in reality you get swept by the current and never really have a chance.
I thought LaMarcus had one of his better offensive games of the year. He looked aggressive and played like he wasn't going to stand for a repeat of last week's personal slaughter. Of course Carlos Boozer wasn't playing tonight but Aldridge took it out on the Jazz anyway. He shot 8-18 but the more impressive stat was 15 free throws drawn (which is, like, five games' worth for him). He finished with 27 points, 5 offensive rebounds, 12 rebounds overall, and 5 assists. I mentioned the defense just above so I won't belabor it here.
Jerryd Bayless was another guy with pop to his offensive game. He had a monster drive and double-clutch dunk from the left corner in the first period but he lost his grip on the rim afterwards and fell flat on his face with his arm beneath him. He came back later in the game with a wrap and the Jazz announcers were calling it a sprain. It seemed to inhibit his driving. It was too bad because I wanted to see what would have happened had Jerryd taken 25 attempts in this game instead of 12. 5-12 shooting, 3 assists, 14 points.
Martell Webster took 17 shots tonight, second only to Aldridge. He hit only 8 and went 3-9 from distance but some of those were bail-out shot clock beaters. He finished the game with 20 points in 36 minutes but he had only 3 rebounds to go along with 2 steals.
Nicolas Batum made 3 of 3 field goals in 14 minutes, had 8 points, and nearly matched Martell's rebounding output with 2. This is a conundrum the Blazers are facing, as Ben outlined today. My take: I respect that Martell was rolling but Nic can't get 14 minutes. I don't say that about many players...any players really. But this is not a "platoonable" position long-term. Batum does too much to help the team. Update: Apparently Nic was experiencing some pain. More as it becomes available.
Juwan Howard had 10 rebounds in 33 minutes but this was the first game in a while where I was left with the impression I expected to have of Juwan this year, which was that he's overmatched. He just didn't seem to have the fire tonight. He certainly wasn't effective. You can say that Paul Millsap scored only 12 points while being watched by Juwan for much of the evening but Paul Millsap also took only 8 shots. Plus he had 5 assists. Had the Jazz needed Millsap he would have been there. 3-7 shooting for Juwan, 6 points, 5 of each type of rebound in 33 minutes.
Andre Miller couldn't get it going, especially when shooting the jumper. He shot 3-13 for 9 points and had 4 assists.
Steve Blake got some extra minutes because of Jerryd's arm injury and did OK. At least he's looking more confident than he was a couple weeks ago. With Blake, Miller, and Bayless we could talk about defense as the Utah guards (Wes Matthews aside) didn't have spectacular scoring nights. But in reality Utah got everything it wanted, as evidenced by Deron Williams' 13 assists. Blake scored 8 with 3 boards and 2 assists in 21 minutes.
Rudy Fernandez had another of his painful nights to watch on offense, not so much because he missed shots (he went 1-5 for 7 points) but because he refused to take them. He might be trying to emphasize the unselfish point-guardy aspects of his game but even point guards need to take shots they're capable of making. Rudy is passing up opportunities he doesn't normally think twice about. Someone needs to tap him on the shoulder and tell him it's OK to shoot...in fact it helps us when he does. 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal.
Dante Cunningham is not lacking confidence in his shot or anything else right now. As usual he was all over the floor in his 15 minutes, registering a spectacular block, 2 steals, 3 rebounds and 4 points plus only 1 personal foul. I'm finding myself looking forward to the stretches he'll be playing. On the podcast last week Dwight Jaynes mentioned noticing players and Dante is one of those guys who's starting to grab eyes.
Jeff Pendergraph had another 5-minute, 2-foul outing. He fouls hard...you have to give him that. If he were a poker player you'd say he's being over-aggressive right now, trying to get some lost chips back perhaps. He needs to get back to playing his hand and the opponent instead of shoving his stack in on every play.
Paddy Mills hit a nice running bank shot in his minute of play, scoring 2 points.
San Antonio is a different opponent tomorrow night and the Rose Garden a different venue. Hopefully we'll see the same kind of hustle and offensive energy because it could well translate into a win.
See if Utah fans still respect us in the morning at SLCDunk.