The Portland Trail Blazers almost escaped Salt Lake City with a win over the Utah Jazz tonight, but Ricky Rubio had other ideas. Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic combined for 68 points, pushing their team into overtime on the road. But a final flurry from Utah’s brand-new point guard made sure the glorious performance from Portland’s Big 3 ended up as just noise, not the sweet music of victory.
Jusuf Nurkic got the Blazers rolling by forcing a turnover on the Jazz’s first possession, then followed it up with a clean block on Rudy Gobert under the basket. Nurkic transferred his impressive play to the offensive end with six consecutive points, prompting Utah to take a timeout after three minutes of scoreless ball. The Blazers pushed their lead to 14-6 before rookie Donovan Mitchell came to the Jazz’s rescue at the 5:45 mark, with a three-point shot. Once the ice was broken, Jonas Jerebko and Alec Burks joined in, giving Utah a 16-point punch off the bench in the first quarter. The Jazz finished ahead 22-20 after one.
Utah’s second unit returned to reality to start the second, as turnovers dominated the action for both teams. The Blazers slowed into a methodical halfcourt game, ending up in the penalty for their trouble. Thabo Sefolosha’s work at the free throw line expanded Utah’s lead to seven at the eight-minute mark. CJ McCollum finally got things going halfway through the second with a driving layup, followed by an open three-pointer. CJ’s offense rubbed off on Ed Davis and Evan Turner, as the bench duo gave Portland a 36-35 lead with under three minutes to go in the half. Utah’s free throws kept them even despite Portland’s scoring. The half finished with the opponents knotted at 39.
A point guard battle broke out in the second half, as Lillard and Rubio kept the scoreboard ticking. Then the Bosnian Beast asserted himself again, finishing off a beautiful entry pass by Lillard and converting a 22-foot jumper a minute later. Pat Connaughton, Noah Vonleh, and Davis all took turns at the free throw line. The Blazers finished the period up 69-64.
Both offenses started the fourth quarter looking sluggish, but Lillard and Mitchell got the action rolling by exchanging highlight-worthy jumpers. Rubio and Mitchell hit three-pointers, giving the Jazz a two-point lead three minutes into the quarter - prompting a Terry Stotts timeout. Lillard came out of the timeout hot and answered with two deep shots of his own. The game soon turned into a perimeter slugfest and the Blazers emerged on top with a six-point advantage with three minutes remaining. Rubio hit a three, then Sefolosha as the pace crept to a standstill. Lillard and Gobert exchange buckets in the paint in the final minute, but both offenses were sputtering. Rubio traveled during Utah’s last possession in regulation, while Lillard got a jumper blocked by Gobert in Portland’s last try. The teams headed to overtime tied at 94 apiece.
Mitchell reeled off five quick points in the first minute of OT. Portland couldn’t answer or escape defensive possessions without fouling. Lillard hit a jumper and a layup to stake his team to nine points in the extra period, but the Blazers allowed 18. Rubio put the game on ice, matching Portland’s entire nine points in the final two minutes alone. Meanwhile Nurkic received a less-than-friendly shot to the crotch from Sefolosha to add a little more pain to the 112-103 defeat.
The Blazers proved that they are quipped for a fight in a phone booth this year. Portland outscored the Gobert-led Jazz in the paint 40-32, staying level in a game where the pace was excruciatingly slow at times. The physical battle may have taken its toll, though. The Blazers appeared to run out of steam in the final portion of this game.
Utah’s ability to end ugly possessions by getting to the free throw line deflated Portland’s defensive efforts. In the second quarter—and again in the overtime period—the Blazers were unable to end defensive stands cleanly. The Jazz were able to string together lead-changing runs from the charity stripe alone. Currently the Blazers rank 28th in the league in free throws allowed per game. It showed tonight.
The Jazz double-teamed Damian Lillard on important possessions, and it worked like a charm. Thabo Sefolosha did a superb job of guiding Lillard into bigger defenders above the break, putting Portland’s offense out of rhythm when they needed crucial buckets down the stretch.
Damian Lillard was only two assists shy of an impressive triple-double. Unlike his point-driven performance against the Raptors in Portland’s last game, Lillard’s production kept the Blazers afloat tonight. His 4-for-15 performance from beyond the arc looks ugly, but Utah’s lengthy perimeter defenders deserves credit for bothering him.
CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic joined Lillard in the double-digit rebounding club tonight. The ugliness of this game brought out the best in CJ on the boards. Unfortunately, it brought out six turnovers as well. Nurkic flashed his offensive potential and put together his most consistent defensive performance of the young season. Hopefully his 19 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 blocks will help soothe some of the sting of the loss.
Noah Vonleh returned from injury to play for the first time this season. The 22-year-old power forward looked a little rusty, but he got down low and drew foul shots.
Our friends at SLC Dunk are currently celebrating the official arrival of rookie Donovan Mitchell.
The Blazers will return to action Thursday as they host Lonzo Ball and the Los Angeles Lakers at 7:30pm, Pacific.
—Steve / @SteveDHoops / BEdgeSteve@gmail.com