Coming off their best offensive performance of the year, the Blazers had to feel like they were playing in molasses. While the Warriors play fast, the Utah Jazz can make the Memphis Grizzlies look like cheetahs. In the end, Damian Lillard continued his recent great play by spearheading a big win in a game with real playoff implications.
The game had all the intensity of a playoff game as both teams traded big blows in the second half. The Jazz played the Blazers tough with their excellent defense and front court play. The Blazers fought hard with 23 offensive rebounds and a well balanced effort.
Damian Lillard followed his career night with 30 points and 5 assists. CJ McCollum finished with 31 in an efficient shooting night. Maurice Harkless continued his recent surge off the bench with 17 points and six huge offensive rebounds. The Jazz were paced by Derrick Favors with 20 and Gordon Hayward with 21.
Portland came out as if the Warriors game had never ended. McCollum and Noah Vonleh both hit threes and the Blazers took a quick 8-0 lead. The Jazz looked perplexed on offense and the Blazers looked like they would keep rolling. However, the Jazz bruised back to take control led by their two bigs. Rudy Gobert patrolled the paint like a troll under the bridge and he and Favors started crashing the boards hard on the offensive end. The Jazz love slowing down the pace and the Blazers found themselves time and time again taking tough shots at the end of each shot clock. 17 straight points came for the Jazz from Portland turnovers, great half court defense and some timely shots. After putting up 42 in the first quarter on Friday, Portland only managed 18 tonight.
End of First: Portland 18 Utah 25
The second didn't start any better as nothing came easy for the Blazers in the half court. There is nothing flashy about the Jazz game but it was undeniably effective as easy shots turned into tough shots and tough shots turned into impossible shots for the home team. Their defense seemed to get in the head of the Blazers too. On one occasion, Al-Farouq Aminu found himself wide open and was so surprised that he air balled a three. Newly acquired Shelvin Mack gave the Jazz good minutes by bothering Lillard and McCollum on the perimeter and adding a few tough shots. A controversial elbow by Gobert got the crowd into the game and eventually led to a technical. CJ McCollum gave them more to cheer for with his 14th career dunk on the very next play. The Blazers headed to the locker room down 5 but with some momentum. McCollum led all scorers with 15.
Halftime: Portland 47 Utah 52
The momentum didn't continue in the third and the Jazz scored the first 8 points of the half to push the lead to 13. It looked like the Jazz had figured out the Blazers but Lillard answered strongly with 4 straight threes. It looked like a switch turned on in his head and he all of a sudden remembered that he was unstoppable on Friday. CJ McCollum added a trey of his own to give the Blazers their first lead since the first quarter. Lillard's barrage opened up the game offensively but the Jazz matched the Blazers step by step. The quarter ended in a brief free throw contest between Ed Davis and Gobert. Davis hit 3 of 4 and the Blazers entered the fourth within striking distance.
End of Third: Portland 80 Utah 82
With Damian Lillard taking his rest, CJ McCollum decided to get in on the action. A dazzling lay up was followed by an even more acrobatic finish before Lillard checked back in. The Jazz stayed in the game with some stout defense and a timely three by Trey Burke. Neither team managed to get any separation and a Hayward free throw tied the game at 93 with less than 7 minutes left.
A pair of controversial calls fired up the crowd and Coach Terry Stotts was called for a technical in one of his most emotional moments of the year. He wasn't the only one as the last five minutes had all the feel of a playoff game. Every time the Blazers looked like they might build a lead, Derrick Favors would make a key basket or Hayward would hit a jumper. Back to back threes by Rodney Hood gave the Jazz a two point lead with under 2 minutes remaining. McCollum and Lillard scored consecutively before Hayward tied the game with 29 seconds remaining. Lillard drove for a layup, which turned out to be the game winner after Portland hit their free throws to ice the game.
The Blazers play next on Tuesday at the Moda Center against the Brooklyn Nets. Tip off is 7pm. Stay tuned to Blazer's Edge tonight, for extended analysis of this game from Ryan Rosback.