In a Nutshell
The Blazers manufacture points via hustle and rebounding through three quarters but their bone-dry offense never finds its spring rain and they have no answer for an enormous Jazz fourth-quarter run. The effort is nothing to be ashamed of but definitely highlights the challenges facing the Blazers without a healthy Brandon Roy in uniform.
For the first three periods of this game the Jazz effort bore as much resemblance to Jerry Sloan basketball as the Wal-Mart happy face bears to the Sistine Chapel. Utah turned the ball over consistently, spotting the Blazers 6 T.O.'s in the first 6 minutes of the game alone. The Blazers ripped offensive rebounds like they were deli counter tickets. Take a number, get the ball. Next! Both teams fell prey to bouts of isolation offense but the Blazers won that battle behind LaMarcus Aldridge and the occasional swooping ballet of Nicolas Batum. The Jazz, meanwhile, tattooed the floor with the dribble and tried to distance-shoot their way out of misery. When their threes fell they kept up but when they didn't the Blazers streaked ahead. This was even more so when Portland threw screens into the mix. Utah made defending a simple screened cut towards the baseline for a post hand-off look like calculus. Guys like Matthews and Miller were coming off high screens getting any look they wanted. Meanwhile when the Jazz ran a pick and roll it caught your attention for its rarity. Add in a little Deron Williams foot problem and Portland looked well on their way to a victory.
The only nagging problems for the Blazers came on offense. Copious misses fueled the spectacular offensive rebounding. When they weren't dominating the boards or running they had trouble finding a good look, turning tentative and dumping the ball to each other. Aldridge and Andre Miller did a reasonable job saving possessions but as soon as they bailed out their teammates those teammates started moving. Portland eschewed the three-pointer for the most part and only its best shooter fired from that range. Nobody outside of Rudy Fernandez, Nicolas Batum, and Wesley Matthews even attempted a long ball. But when those snipers were open their guns jammed and their sights swung wildly. Being selective on threes is one thing. Not being able to hit a three when that's your forte and you have four seconds to line it up unopposed is another. Batum went 1-6 from range on the evening, Matthews 0-6, and Fernandez 3-10.
In the fourth quarter those nagging problems became ship-sinking calamities. The trouble started on the defensive end when Al Jefferson got hot in the post and the Blazers couldn't single-cover him. He began Utah's run by scoring repeatedly. When Portland sent an extra man the Jazz finally started cutting and passing. With the Blazer defense in motion instead of stationary (as had been the case earlier when the Jazz went solo) cracks appeared. All of a sudden Utah was scoring at the cup. Forward C.J. Miles also started shooting threes like Dan Majerle. He had a hot run in the second period but had dried up and was shooting the Jazz right out of the game until the Blazers, now concerned about the paint, couldn't find him. He made 5 three-pointers in the fourth period, every one assisted. The in-rushing torrent of Utah points (eventually to reach 38 in the period) put pressure on Portland's offense. The engines couldn't generate enough motion to lift the Blazers over the tide. Andre Miller did a good job penetrating early in the period but he couldn't sustain the run on his own. LaMarcus Aldridge also took a turn but by that time the Jazz had figured out that whenever Miller or Aldridge touched the ball the shot was going up so they just sent two or three men after them. Neither Portland point producer could manage anything more than a bail-out pass against that kind of onslaught. Those bail-out passes went to perimeter shooters. You just saw their numbers on the night. The Blazers did find some daylight in the second half of the period when Aldridge slipped inside the defense and Fernandez and Batum hit from distance. In fact the Blazers had crawled back within 2 with 1:25 left in the game. Then Miles hit his 5th three-pointer. In an homage to the first half both teams turned the ball over. Then the Blazers tried to make up 5 points in 1 possession by shooting 3 threes in a series including 3 offensive rebounds. All the threes missed and the last rebound resulted in a turnover. The Jazz free-throw-shot their way to victory and the Blazers went home unhappy.
The issues described above are somewhat predictable, but you could tell Marcus Camby and Andre Miller, among others, weren't happy about the result anyway. The Blazers did appear to have this game won. Utah took it from them more than Portland gave it up, which is good. But to their credit, it didn't look like the Blazers were interested in any moral victories.
Some will blame C.J. Miles' precocious night for rescuing an improbable win but other than a couple of obnoxious bombs from approximately Toledo, Miles got his shots fair and square. His shooting alone didn't make the difference. He was missing plenty of dumb shots before the fourth. Rather Portland not being able to compensate defensively allowed Miles the opportunity to warm up again. Most of his shots were reasonable in that period and they all went down.
Marcus Camby didn't stand out on offense in this game, attempting only 3 shots. But dang, his rebounding was good. He had 14 and helped keep the Jazz bigs under wraps for most of the game. Both Millsap and Jefferson looked frustrated as heck before the dam broke.
LaMarcus Aldridge went 10-21 for 24 points but the biggest news was that he finally looked relaxed, comfortable, and in stride with some of his close-in moves. For the first couple of periods it looked like he wouldn't be stopped at any range. Only later in the game when the Jazz choked him down did he get more timid. And frankly the Blazers probably didn't make as much use of him as they could have late, although the team not being able to connect on a jumper all but guaranteed he'd not get a free moment on offense. He had 7 offensive rebounds and 11 overall. The blemish on his record, besides getting exposed a little on deep defense in the fourth, was his 8 turnovers. Once he was into his moves on offense he looked good but he had trouble getting the ball into position through busy Jazz hands because he often brought it down too low on the catch or recover. Still, his footwork looked better and that's a start.
Nicolas Batum had his usual 14 points and 6 rebounds in another semi-wonderful, semi-frustrating night. When he's on the run Batum is an amazing talent. Heading towards the hoop he's fully capable of creating postcard-worthy moments. But he doesn't look comfortable taking over or even taking full advantage of his opportunities the way Miller does, for instance. Like a poet who won't pick up a pen, he stands at the arc and either letting the play go or occasionally shooting. If he misses that shot his confidence and assertiveness disappear. The Jazz had no answer for Batum tonight but he never made them take the quiz.
Andre Miller had 9 assists to go with his 15 points and 5 rebounds and did a good job getting Portland in the lane when they started shrinking away in the fourth. As always his teammates stopped moving as soon as he took over. That's not his fault entirely. They shouldn't do that, as he's just trying to keep their heads above water until they can swim again. But the lesson remains: 8.5 times out of 10 it's bad news when you see Miller start dominating the offense, not because he's bad at it but because the actual effect on the offense isn't as rosy as his wonderful scoring skills seem to indicate. Miller also had 5 turnovers.
Wesley Matthews had some brilliant moments in this game, particularly driving the lane and shooting off of screens. Had he not attempted a three all game his night would have been excellent. But for whatever reason that shot is not falling for him consistently. He had 16 points and I do think Portland's defensive mobility has significantly improved with him playing major minutes.
Rudy Fernandez played a key role and had a few good defensive moments and a couple really nice passes, in particular one ultra-scary flip pass from the arc to LaMarcus Aldridge for the alley-oop flush. The 3-10 from the floor, all on threes, was a killer though, as most of those were open shots.
Dante Cunningham got few of his patented face-up, mid-range jumpers tonight and as a result went 1-6 from the field. He didn't look very comfortable out there tonight on either end.
Armon Johnson went 3-6 for 8 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and no turnovers in his 14 minutes. A fine outing.
Stats of the Night
- Blazers 4-22 (18.2%) from the arc
- Portland scores 46 in the paint to Utah's 34. Had a couple more of those threes connected this game would have gone the other way by virtue of the paint play.
- Blazers 24 offensive rebounds. Jazz 6.
- Utah shoots 48% from the floor, 52.6% from the arc. Most of that happened in the fourth.
- Deron Williams scores 12 and Paul Millsap 15. The Blazers had a chance.
Odd Notes and Links
The Blazers have no games until Friday and only 2 in the next 8 days. That's as good a time as any to rest, recoup, and draw up some firmer offensive plans to work around Roy's status.
Hear of Utah's mighty fourth-quarter prowess on the road at SLCDunk.
Here's your Boxscore. Just put your thumb over the fourth quarter numbers and you'll be OK.
See the Jersey Contest scoreboard here and enter the next game here.