In a Nutshell
The Blazers play physical basketball and shoot a high percentage to maintain an 8-10 point lead through much of the game before the Jazz use their strengths of inside scoring, offensive rebounding, and fast breaking to steamroll the Blazers in the late third and fourth periods. Nicolas Batum saves Portland's chances with a flurry of three-point shots but goes down with a knee injury in the critical closing seconds of the game. An MRI is scheduled.
This game got physical and gritty early and the Blazers were ready for it. Utah flow chart reads: Fast Break-Get It Inside-Rebound Your Miss. The Blazers took most of that away through shoving, bumping, grinding, and out-muscling their hosts. The Jazz never got to run unless the Blazers turned over the ball. The Blazers outrebounded Utah as well. With those areas in check defending was a simple matter of sending extra help into the paint whenever the ball entered. Portland ended up shooting in the 50% range for the quarter while the Jazz were in the 30's. Portland led 26-20 after one.
Portland had some bobbles with their bench players in the second period, not only through the usual turnovers but with energy in general. The starters wound down and couldn't keep up the pace. The bench didn't respond with fire. Portland's offense drifted towards jumpers. Utah ran off of their misses. Steals and tough-nosed first quarter plays became fouls in the second. Portland was over the foul limit by the 6:30 mark of the period. The saving graces for Portland were two: the Jazz still couldn't hit a jumper and the Blazers went crazy blocking shots. Portland's offense was scattered with Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford, and LaMarcus Aldridge all getting chances to create with varying levels of success. The Blazers couldn't buy a long ball to save their lives which made Utah's defensive task that much easier. When the dust cleared both teams managed 19 points in the period and Portland led 45-39 at the half.
As has been typical of late, Aldridge came out and ripped apart the entire court in the third period. He scored 14 of the 18 points the Blazers notched in the first six and a half minutes of the quarter. The Jazz had no answer for him defensively. He just buried them. Utah finally managed to connect with some longer shots early in the period. This kept them breathing but it didn't look good. When Aldridge finished his flurry they were down 11. Then the Blazers got tired again. Aldridge started pulling his jumpers. The Blazers committed turnovers again. They started putting the Jazz on the line, allowing offensive rebounds, all the things that plagued them in the second period. When Gordon Hayward--not exactly an offensive machine--hit the second of this two threes in the period Utah was even. The Blazers would eke out a single point advantage heading into the fourth, 70-69.
The beginning of the fourth period was typified by two trends. Portland's wobbly defense broke altogether. Their halfcourt rotations were slow, their transition effort poor...it was as if the Jazz had developed powers vampiric, sapping all of the energy Portland had evidenced early in this game and using it for themselves. BUT the Blazers were saved by Nicolas Batum going on a tear, popping three-pointers like they were Cheetos. He connected with three triples in four Portland possessions in just two minutes, putting the Blazers up 5 again with 9:00 left in the game. It looked like the Blazers might earn the victory after all. But seasoned 2011-12 observers know what happens when the Blazers have to rely on threes to keep them afloat. Batum's grand makes turned into spectacular misses for the likes of Felton and Crawford. Indeed, after Batum hit his third long ball at the 9:10 mark the Blazers did not score again until the clock read 3:29. The closest non-blocked shot by far in that span was a 15-footer. Six attempts came from 20 feet or more. Meanwhile the Jazz rebounded the orange off the ball, won every 50-50 opportunity, blitzed their break opportunities, and just destroyed Portland in the paint.
Still, this game wasn't over. The Blazers were still within 2 with the ball and under 30 seconds left. Ironically after shooting tons of threes they shouldn't have, they passed up 2.5 open looks from beyond the arc when it would have put them ahead, instead calling a timeout off of a stalled set. That's when Batum's number got called and the Basketball Gods decided to continue their five-year game of Whac-a-Mole with any Blazer who starts to distinguish himself. Batum drove right, across the top of the key, then got the ball poked away as he crumpled in a heap holding his knee. Even the Utah crowd, by this time in a frenzy, went silent as he was carried off the court, hopping on one leg.
But this game STILL wasn't over. After an exchange of scores and foul shots closed Utah's lead to but 1 with four seconds left C.J. Miles, to this point playing a near-flawless half, missed the second of his two free throws, leaving the Blazers down only 2. Sadly, the Blazers couldn't rebound that missed free throw. Blowing a foul shot rebound is a grievous sin at any time, but when possession will allow you to tie or win the game it's near unforgivable. But that's exactly how the final period went for Portland. The Jazz connected on a couple more charity tosses to provide the final margin, 93-89.
This game told the story of Portland's season so far: looking good coming out of the gate, showing some solid individual talent and inspirational play, but ultimately getting beaten down because of fatigue, the other team's depth, lack of shooting, or a combination thereof.
That said, the only real take-away point is the health of Batum...the one Blazer besides LaMarcus Aldridge clearly shining over the past couple of weeks. Portland needs him badly. That bench can't take a single extended injury.
LaMarcus Aldridge rode that third quarter to a game-high 25 points on 11-20 shooting. He had 7 rebounds (so-so considering the Jazz let him defend inside most of the night) and 2 blocks. He looked brilliant but he also ran out of steam.
Gerald Wallace had a pretty solid game with 9 rebounds, 9 points on 4-7 shooting, and 4 assists. Even so, his energy looks more sporadic now than it did earlier in the year. This season may wear on him more than most.
Marcus Camby had only 5 rebounds but played some monster defense and ate up 4 blocks worth of Jazz shots. He didn't make as big of a difference as he did in those 20-rebound games but he was alright.
Raymond Felton 2-9, 1-5 from distance. Wesley Matthews 3-12, 0-5 from distance. Sigh. At least Felton had 7 assists.
Nicolas Batum was the star off of the bench, connecting on 4 of 5 threes for 15 points. His "D" was pretty good too. (Glaring at the guards here.)
Jamal Crawford shot an effective 6-12 for 14 points and had a couple of great looking drives but never looked comfortable at point, committing 4 turnovers. He's fine when you leave him alone but ever time you confuse matters by sending a pick his way he gets flustered.
Kurt Thomas had a great time in the middle quarters, playing 15 minutes, connecting on 2-3 shots, grabbing 5 boards, and blocking 2 shots. Nice game from him.
Craig Smith, on the other hand, went 1-4 with only 2 rebounds in 8 minutes. This continues the recent trend. I realize the Blazers need him as a post threat but my suggestion is that any game wherein Smith has more shot attempts than rebounds be labeled at best a questionable one for him, if not bad.
Fun With Numbers
- The Blazers shot a very nice 46% to Utah's 38% BUT...
- Utah: 18 offensive rebounds. (Blazers: 5)
- Utah: 20 fast break points. (Blazers: 8)
- Utah: 51 rebounds total, Blazers 37 on a night when the Jazz missed far more shots than did Portland
- Utah: 26-38 from the foul line, Blazers: 10-13. That was a legit deficit too. Portland actually got some early calls. The Jazz just kept up the inside pressure and won the physical battle.
Get well, Monsieur Batum.
You can read the Jazz side of what turned out to be a great win for them at SLC Dunk.