"See what Ray's doing? Do the opposite of that."
The Blazers raced out to an early lead with some hot outside shooting, but Utah was better inside and managed to weather Portland's start, fighting to cut the deficit to 3 by halftime. The second quarter was indicative of what was to come for much of the next half, with Utah's interior play superior to Portland's jumper-dependent offense. A late surge was almost enough to give Portland the win, but the reliance on jumpers again reared its ugly head on a night when Portland just wasn't aggressive enough.
Portland was led by Wesley Matthews, who had one of the best shooting nights in recent team history, scoring 33 points while going 10-12 from the field and 5-6 from three-point range. LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum also had good nights, chipping in 27 and 16 points, respectively, but that trio was about it for Portland, with no other Blazer reaching double figures in scoring.
Jonny Flynn, Luke Babbittt, and Nolan Smith didn't receive much playing time. Flynn's ability to beat his man off the dribble and kick out to an open shooter was very good, though the Jazz chose in the second half to lay off and force him to finish himself,, a task which he found difficult. Babbitt's prowess from deep is remarkable, and it may be since the early days of Rudy Fernandez's time in Portland since the franchise has had a shooter so deadly from distance. It's worth keeping an eye on his defense rotations, as he was caught late a few times.
The first quarter started with a bang, as the Blazers quickly rushed out to a ten-point lead, the main contributors being Matthews and Aldridge. Matthews, playing against his old team, started out 4-5 from the field and 2-2 from three. Aldridge started by hitting some longer two-point jumpers, which opened up the interior. Some excellent post play and a fast-break dunk followed, with the Utah frontcourt simply unable to cope the barrage of moves from the All-Star.
The young brigade of Babbitt, Flynn, and Smith entered the game with a minute left in the first quarter, with Flynn immediately hitting a long three-pointer to restore the ten-point advantage. Excellent ball movement led to an open three-point attempt for Babbitt, which he finished with aplomb. The hot-shooting continued into the second quarter with Babbitt and Batum both hitting, the team combining to start 8-10 from deep. JJ Hickson nearly set the Rose Garden on fire with a tip dunk attempt from near the free-throw line, narrowly missing out on a dunk of the season candidate.
The starters checked back in with a little less than half of the second quarter remaining, promptly conceding a 7-0 run to Utah, who looked to combat Aldridge by utilizing a lineup with Paul Millsap at small forward. On offense, the Jazz began exploiting Ray Felton on the pick and roll, leading to Devin Harris being isolated against Joel Przybilla, a tough ask for any big. Though Harris left the game with a few minutes left in the quarter, the Blazer lead continued to evaporate as the offense deteriorated into jump shooting. An off-balance 18-footer from Felton ended the half, the 14-point Blazer lead having shrunk to 3.
The second half started similarly, with the anemic Portland offense struggling to generate movement. Utah's unstoppable duo of Jamaal Tinsley and Gordon Hayward began to work, a quick 8-0 run the result. From the late second quarter to mid-third quarter, Utah was on a 20-1 run. Late in the quarter, Aldridge began to assert himself in the post, but the Blazers were only able to cut the Utah lead to 5 heading into the final period.
A three-pointer from Matthews and continued good play from Aldridge were a promising start to the fourth quarter, but Portland's defense failed to improve and Utah continued to pound the ball inside. A block from Aldridge at the 5 minute mark seemed to finally ignite the defense. A 10-0 run followed, punctuated by a Matthews three-pointer, restoring a 3 point Blazer advantage. The shooting again cooled off, though, and with the Jazz up 1 in the final minute, a poor inbounds pass was stolen and led to an easy Paul Millsap dunk. A missed Nicolas Batum three-pointer and the game was all but done, with the Jazz hitting two late free throws to salt it away.
Check out the box score, and stay tuned for Ben's media row report later. The next game is Wednesday night, at home against the Nets. -- Zach