Lillard leads comeback!
As I arrived to the arena in Salt Lake City tonight I was greeted with the welcome site of LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum warming up!
The Blazers seemed loose and upbeat despite the 5-game losing streak. Batum and Rudy Gobert were chatting it up near mid-court, probably cracking jokes in French. Robin Lopez had a friendly encounter with The Jazz Bear, even getting a picture together.
Meanwhile Meyers Leonard and Joel Freeland went at it one-on-one.
Unfortunately, Batum did not play despite warming up but Aldridge was a go! Allen Crabbe was inserted into the starting lineup for Batum.
The Jazz have been dealing with some injuries of their own as Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood were inactive for the game. Trey Burke, fresh off a 4 for 22 shooting night in an overtime loss to Minnesota, was inserted into the starting lineup for The Jazz. The crowd gave a huge cheer when he nailed his first jumper.
The game started off slow-paced. During a time-out they brought out some "zorb" balls and had a race going. It quickly turned into a showdown of who could deliver the biggest hit on the other team. This entertained the crowd. Even The Jazz Bear got in on the hitting!
For the last half of the first quarter the stingy Jazz defense would not budge. Portland's free-flowing offense turned into isolation plays. Aldridge struggled with his shot and no one else was picking up the slack. A late three-pointer from Dorell Wright helped save Portland from putting up a single-digit point total in the first. But the abysmal Trail Blazer offense only mustered 12 points (lowest total of any quarter this season), which lead to a 9-point deficit. During the break I noticed Batum was icing his lower back. Get healthy soon!
The Second quarter lead to increased production offensively for The Blazers. Overall the defense looked solid compared to the team that allowed 122 points to The Warriors last night. The Jazz struggled without their leading scorer Gordon Hayward. Wright was having a great game off the bench and even had a beautiful T-Rob-esque block on a Jazz fast break that was (ridiculously) called a foul. Portland cut into The Jazz lead, leaving a 37-39 halftime score.
During halftime they showed tweets from fans about the game, Numerous remarks referred to how well Derrick Favors was playing. He had 19 points on 8 for 12 shooting and 7 rebounds at the half. He was clearly outplaying a frustrated LaMarcus on both ends of the court. Given that, I was thrilled that Portland was only down 2 at the break.
The third quarter started out fairly well for Portland. It seemed that the referees were letting the players get away with some physical play and reach-ins. A clearly aggravated Aldridge drove hard on Trevor Booker, which led to a foul on Booker. As their arms intertwined and shoving commenced, Booker was called for a Technical Foul. The crowd rained boos upon the officials leading to Jazz fans telling me " that ref, #30, MUST be from Portland". Another Jazz fan chimed in "John Goble is his name look him up". A few more fans joined in and it started a full-fledged conspiracy theory. Someone "googled" the referee in question and found out he is actually from Florida. The theory would not die as another said, "well he probably lives in Oregon now".
As LaMarcus began to heat up late in the quarter the Jazz started doubling and sometimes triple-teaming him as soon as he touched the ball. Poor movement and execution lead to horrible passes and bad turnovers. Utah converted easy buckets and the crowd went electric. The Jazz led 65-55 entering the fourth quarter.
Back to back threes by Dorell Wright cut into the immediate deficit. Soon Portland's offense started scoring at will. Damian Lillard took control, highlighted by a powerful dunk that brought the Blazers bench to their feet.
The closing minutes were back and forth. Burke seemed to suffer a strange neck injury with 27 seconds left and awkwardly tried to call timeout while holding onto the ball and clutching the side of his head. With Portland up by one with only seconds remaining the Jazz went for aggressive steals instead of fouling. As the Blazers worked it up the court Aldridge went in for a lay-up but Gobert almost came away with a huge block! It was a goaltend.
On the ensuing Jazz inbounds pass Afflalo fouled Joe Ingles, he made the first and missed the second. Aldridge secured the rebound and was fouled. With 2.5 seconds left and Portland up by 2 Aldridge left the door open by only making 1 free throw. The Jazz called timeout. They got Favors a good look at a game-tying three but it did not fall. Portland won!
It was sure nice to have LaMarcus Aldridge back, but Damian Lillard was the real hero of this game. He scored 13 fourth-quarter points and ended up with 23, 12 assists, and 8 rebounds. Nice win Portland!
Thanks to Marcus for the extra report!