The hot-shooting Utah Jazz ruddied the cheeks of a tired Portland Trail Blazers squad still missing Damian Lillard, as turnovers and an unfocused offense was more than enough to take the Blazers down with little trouble, 109-96.
True, a team missing its best player and working the second night of a back-to-back on the road isn't set up for success, and inconsistency of a young, inexperienced team is par for the course. Still, after a 3-game streak and a few impressive wins, the Blazers had a sharp fall back to reality.
CJ McCollum finished with 32 points, 7 boards, and 6 dimes on 13-26 shooting, Meyers Leonard had 17 points, and Allen Crabbe had 15 points, but besides a mini-run to end the third, there was little for Portland to feel happy about on this New Years Eve.
The Jazz kicked things off with 5-0 run, but McCollum and Crabbe righted the ship and the Blazers pulled ahead. Gordon Hayward hit a few late in the quarter to give Utah the lead back, but Ed Davis muscled through contact and made the and-one to tie it at 23 after one, with McCollum playing all 12 minutes. Miraculously, the Blazers avoided committing a single foul all quarter.
The Blazers slipped early in the 2nd. While Leonard hitting his second three and a solid Moe Harkless drive were encouraging as McCollum got some rest, the Blazers offense was mostly stagnant, be it frustrated by a swarming Utah defense or sorely missing a legitimate playmaker. The Jazz lead nearly grew to double digits before McCollum and some other starters checked back in hoping to restore order, but the threes kept falling for Utah, capping a 17-3 run. It was 42-30 Jazz before McCollum hit again from deep, but the bleeding didn't stop, and with oodles of Blazers turnovers the Utah run reached 27-8 with 4:40 to go. The Blazers finished the half down 39-57 with nine turnovers to the Jazz’s one, not exactly a recipe for success.
CJ McCollum tried to start the third quarter with a bang, but instead it was a clang as his three bounced harmlessly away and turned into a Utah triple on the other end. The Blazers were down 20+ lickety-split, and neither McCollum, nor Crabbe, nor anyone else the Blazers could reasonably turn to for help could inspire any hope. Not even an Allen Crabbe three plus the foul could make much of a dent, as the nearly 30-point hole turned into just 15... but that's kinda like saying being squashed by two elephants is better than being squashed by four: who cares? You're still dead. Just like the Blazers were in this one. They did put on a bit of a burst at the end of the third, and found themselves trailing 86-71 heading into the final quarter.
Portland forced a Utah 24-second violation on the first play of the 4th, and Leonard hit for three to cut the lead to 12. Suddenly those elephants were feeling a bit less heavy, but they fattened up mighty quick and Utah pushed the lead back to 19. A pair of Leonard threes were all the Blazers could muster in the first 5 minutes of the 4th, which wasn't nearly enough. The Blazers fell 109-96 as the EnergySolutions Arena crowd headed cheerily into the 14-degree night.
The Blazers eye the possible return of Damian Lillard as they fly from one mountain city to another to face the Denver Nuggets in Colorado on Sunday, Jan. 3. Keep your eyes peeled for our deep recap coming up from Ryan Rosback soon.