New Year's celebrations are typically a time of reflection; where the past is forgone for the sake of the betterment of the future. A release, so to speak.
The Trail Blazers would certainly like to put Thursday night behind them and look onward, as the Utah Jazz took it to them, out-dueling Portland in a three-point shootout 109-96 in Salt Lake.
For most of the night, the Blazers looked like they'd rather be anywhere else than the basketball court, perhaps looking a bit too forward to holiday festivities. Both squads suffered from injuries to their primary contributors, but it was the Jazz which rode an impressive shooting performance to completely blitz Portland and set the tone for a lop-sided contest.
Utah took control of the game wire-to-wire; riding the hot shooting of Trey Burke and Rodney Hood to bludgeon the Blazers from the outside. Not typically a strong club from long-distance, the Jazz buried nine threes in the first half to jump out to an early lead.
After a first quarter feeler, in which Portland just about went tit-for-tat with Utah's attack, the Jazz went on a tear, outscoring the Blazers 32-14 in the period and looking in total control. Portland went the final several minutes of the second quarter without a field goal and could only stand by and watch as Burke, Hood and Joe Ingles worked the three-point line. Blazers defenders found themselves picked off more than Connor Cook and gave up a smorgasbord open shots.
Screen. Dribble. Pull-up. Repeat. The recipe for success was rather simple for Utah and they rode the wave to a commanding 57-39 lead heading into the locker room.
The three-point barrage would continue into the third, as the Jazz fittingly opened the second half with two threes from Gordon Hayward and another from Hood - before you knew it, Portland was down 29 grasping for any kind of life.
CJ McCollum wage his own mini-run to close the period, bombing away to put up 10 quick points, which along with two free throws from Maurice Harkless brought the Blazers back within 15 at 86-71.
McCollum's surge continued into the final frame and even pulled Portland as close as 12. Suddenly reeling, the Jazz moved into full-on clock-management mode, winding down possessions as Portland looked to mirror the old Phoenix Suns' "7 seconds or less" mantra. The Blazers threatened, but never really looked like they were in a position to close the gap.
Too little too late.
It might have just been philosophy, it might have been a lack of respect to Utah's shooters, but Portland looked reluctant to go over screens Thursday and it cost them dearly. Burke and Hood received all the daylight they needed and took advantage of the opportunity presented to them. One screen and done was all anybody needed to free themselves from a Blazer defender and the Jazz exploited that consistently to the tune of 50% shooting overall (45% from deep).
At the other end, nearly half of Portland's shot attempts were threes, and they only reached the free throw line 14 times (converting 10) - failing to take advantage of the absence of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors' interior defensive presence. This might have been a hallmark example of the value of Damian Lillard's skill taking the ball to the hole, as the Blazers produced almost nothing within 18-feet of the basket.
Utah's 15 threes sets a new season high for the club, besting its previous mark of 13. They could do just about whatever they wanted and Portland wasn't going to stop them.
Portland's 10 turnovers would look nice, if they had not only forced five from the Jazz. Neither side applied much defensive pressure and mostly just looked to capitalize on each others' mistakes. In one forgettable moment during the second quarter, Al-Farouq Aminu dribbled up the court himself, pranced directly into a triple-team and essentially handed the ball to Burke, which was promptly returned-to-sender in the form of a demoralizing, unguarded fast-break layup.
Coach Terry Stotts elected to play his starters deep into the final period, despite trailing by double-digits for a majority of the night - whether that was in an overconfident attempt to perhaps steal an incredible comeback victory, or just send a message to his guys about the quality of their play Thursday, I'll leave up to you.
CJ McCollum did his darnedest but it didn't make up for a slow start and the general ineffectiveness of his fellow teammates. After a slow shooting start, McCollum ended up with another strong performance of 32 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists on 50% shooting - he got hot late in the second half, going into attack-mode and drilling some tough shots to try and keep Portland in the contest. It wasn't enough.
Meyers Leonard had another promising, if not mildly frustrating performance - his shooting touch was on point, making 6-8 shots (including 5-6 from downtown) for 17 points but was incredibly hesitant deciding when to take his shots, passing up several open looks. His confidence will continue to be something to monitor going forward.
Allen Crabbe started slowly as well but finished with a respectable 15 points on 5-11 shooting. He continues to embed himself as primary scoring option for this team, but clearly must have his opportunities created for him.
Hardly anybody else on the Blazers' roster consistently shoots threes, so other contributions are barely worth mentioning. Aminu and Mason Plumlee were virtually taken out of the offense (scoring 5 and 3 points respectively), and for the first time this season were both outscored by Noah Vonleh (6 points).
Tim Frazier played 23 minutes, missed all 3 of his shots and added 3 assists. Ho-hum.
Harkless had a bit of an off-night, missing all 5 of his threes to score 8 points and pull in 5 rebounds.
Ed Davis only played 10 minutes and you might have not even noticed: 3 points and a rebound.
Gerald Henderson was virtually relegated to garbage time; he scored 2 points.
Ex-Blazer draftee Jeff Withey, who's been starting as of late in place of the injured Gobert, was a formidable force at the defensive end, blocking four shots and becoming an imposing deterrent against Portland would-be scorers at the rim.
Links and Such
SLC Dunk has a lot to celebrate going in to the New Year.
Portland gets a couple days off and then will look to get things back on track in Denver against the Nuggets - tip is set for 6 p.m. Pacific.
We're planning on sending 2000 underprivileged kids to see the Blazers play the Sacramento Kings on March 28th and we need your help. You can donate tickets to the cause through this link:
Promo Code: BLAZERSEDGE
Ticket Costs range from $7-13 (There is a $5 processing fee per order.)
You can also call our ticket rep, Lisa Swan, directly at 503-963-3966. You will need to indicate to her that you are donating the tickets you order to Blazer's Edge Night.
PLEASE consider sending a child or two! Donations have been strong but we've had a LOT of requests and we're not to 2000 yet. Help if you can.
-- Ryan Rosback | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter