In a Nutshell
Portland's reserves-become-starters do a credible job against their counterparts from Utah, turning nice ball movement and paint scoring into a close game despite rebounding and defensive problems. Portland has a chance to win with a three-pointer at the buzzer but Wesley Matthews is run over on his follow-through and misses. The Blazers lose one of their better efforts of the last few weeks and finish the season 28-38, 8-25 on the road.
The Jazz put in some token starters at the opening tip, allowing them to take a bow for the regular season and make the fans feel like they got their money's worth tonight. Utah scored inside despite greater-than-usual effort from Portland's rag-tag bunch of survivors. Portland couldn't generate any offense early, though, and trailed 23-16 after one.
With that lead in tow the Jazz excused their regular players for the night, sending in their second and third units to finish the game. Portland was still trying to defend inside, at least for the first part of the period. Utah obliged them by drifting outside on offense...hardly a strength for them. Meanwhile Jonny Flynn began a great run for the evening by getting in the lane and scoring or dishing. The Blazers and Jazz ended up equal for the period and Utah still led by 7, 47-40, heading into the half.
During the third quarter Utah's entire staff donned cowboy hats and visited the Lazy D ranch, an establishment which has hosted the Blazers frequently during the last month. They allowed Flynn and the Blazers any passes and cuts they wished, resulting in some pretty baskets close up. They turned over the ball for good measure. They didn't get back in transition. Portland wasn't all that great on the defensive end themselves, frequently rotating to shooters late. The Blazers scored 35 in the period...a shock because you could draw from a hat the stats of any six Blazers in the rotation right now and probably still not reach that total for the game. Utah scored 31. Portland trailed only by 3, 78-75, entering the final period.
Both teams tightened up in the final frame. Portland couldn't score at all until they put in a small lineup, parts of which featured Kurt Thomas, J.J. Hickson, and three guards. Then the Blazers scored but they couldn't rebound. Their cardinal sin was allowing Utah 9 offensive rebounds in the period. Some bad transition defense made things worse. To their credit, though, the Blazers--led by Flynn--kept up their ball movement and worked for decent shots. They took the lead midway through the period then Utah took it back by virtue of the aforementioned rebounding. The Blazers drew within 2 on a Nolan Smith layup off of a steal with 1:16 remaining. Then the weirdness began.
The Blazers played decent defense on Utah's final possession(s) but allowed the Jazz 2 offensive rebounds sandwiched between their 3 misses. When Portland finally managed to secure the ball they found only 8 seconds remaining on the clock. Those rebounds had allowed the Jazz to burn a full 68 of those final 76 seconds. Oddly, the Blazers didn't call timeout on the rebound, letting Jonny Flynn take it upcourt. Even more oddly he stopped about 26 feet from the hoop and just stood there, not seeing options. Even odder than that, Portland called timeout literally the instant before he heaved a three (which missed). Seriously, the ball was already in its arc and halfway to the hoop before the timeout whistle blew. Portland had 2 seconds remaining. They inbounded the ball to Wesley Matthews at the top of the three-point arc and he rose, firing wide left. His concentration may have been broken by a defender bowling into him but he did get the shot off, mostly. Both his follow-through and his chest were obliterated in the process. Much to the chagrin of Nolan Smith, who hopped up and down like a badger in heat yelling at the refs, no whistle blew. A dazed and stunned Portland team ambled off the court, some remaining to yell at officials, others shaking hands with the Jazz.. Portland loses 94-96.
Outside of some individual performances and a "that figures" shrug for the way the game and season ended, there aren't many. It was entertaining watching these deep bench guys for about three games but I'm not sure anybody could have stood another week of this. It's good the season ended when it did.
Jonny Flynn put on a masterful performance, likely his best as a Blazer. He scored 18 points with 11 assists in 34 minutes, threading great passes and attacking the interior. He looked in control and masterful out there. He had a couple decision-making hiccups, but it was nice to see him play so well.
Luke Babbitt needed 2 made three-pointers to qualify for the league leader board tonight. He responded to the pressure by shooting 1-8 from distance (which would have put him out of the lead anyway) and 3-11 overall.
Kurt Thomas clocked in with his best performance in months, playing 26 minutes, shooting 5-7 from the field, scoring 10 and adding 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. Nice curtain call. Granted, anybody who really knew what they were doing in this game was going to look good, but Kurt didn't have to play that well.
J.J. Hickson led the team with 20 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks, and an incredible 10-13 shooting clip. I guess he wanted an exclamation point on that month-long thesis he's been penning entitled, "Why J.J. Hickson Should Get a Nice Contract This Summer". Point taken.
Nolan Smith also had a good game with 6-12 shooting, 16 points, 7 assists, 2 steals, and some pretty nice defense.
You have to give Wesley Matthews credit for playing through all of these games in which his mates from the starting lineup were either absent or part-timers. He no doubt submarined his season plus-minus by doing so...an indicator that no stat is perfect, eh? He shot 4-18 tonight for 14 points while proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that he did not give a crap about Babbitt's three-point quest, as he personally stole at least two possible Luke triple attempts without so much as a guilty look.
Fun With Numbers
- Blazers 45% shooting from the field, Jazz 42%. How often has that happened lately?
- Blazers nearly match the Jazz in the paint, 40-42.
- Portland only 6-25 (24%) from distance though.
- Portland also allows 17 fast break points.
- Jazz 13 offensive rebounds, 9 in the fourth period.
The season is done but we have much more coming later...tonight, in fact! Look for coverage to continue through the weekend and beyond as we break down the year, the players, and the search for a happy tomorrow.
SLC Dunk will no doubt revel in this ultra-important victory.
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