The Utah Jazz extended their winning streak to nine games after beating the Portland Trail Blazers by double digits on Sunday night. Portland held a slight lead after the first half, but Utah scored an impressive 38 points in the third quarter to claim momentum and, ultimately, the game. In a mostly-forgettable night for the Blazers, Damian Lillard managed to score 39 points by shooting a perfect 13-for-13 from the free throw line, but it wasn’t enough to secure a victory.
Free Throws And Physicality
Damian Lillard and Al-Farouq Aminu got the action going by attacking Utah’s perimeter defense. Aminu netted two three-pointers and Lillard made an impact from the free throw line. Utah turned its focus inside on offense, but Jusuf Nurkic looked sharp on the interior. Thanks to Nurkic and Maurice Harkless, the Blazers tallied two steals and two blocks in the opening quarter. Portland finished the first ahead 26-19 due to Lillard’s 7 points at the foul line and solid overall effort on defense.
Four quick points from Evan Turner and Ed Davis helped expand Portland’s lead to 11 points to start the second quarter. Unfortunately, that opening run was followed by a scoring drought. Alec Burks’ five points off the bench brought the Jazz within single digits at the midpoint of the quarter. Shabazz Napier provided eight points of his own off the bench, which allowed the Blazers to escape the half with a 44-43 lead.
The Blazers finished the first half struggling from the field, and the wheels fell off completely in the third quarter. Joe Ingles and Rudy Gobert scored the first 15 points for the Jazz; Portland had no answer for Utah’s duo. By the midpoint of the period the Blazers found themselves down 65-49. Lillard did his best to keep his squad in contention, but his 12-point flurry in the final 5:26 of the quarter did little to stymie Utah’s onslaught. After outscoring the Blazers 38-19 in the third, the Jazz found themselves ahead 81-63.
Determined to make a dent in Utah’s lead, Portland left the majority of their starters on the court to begin the fourth quarter. The Jazz didn’t relent, however, and Royce O’Neale expanded the margin to 25 points with a breakaway dunk at the 8:35 mark. The Blazers found their rhythm at the midpoint of the quarter and cut the lead to 12 points, but still succumbed to the by-then-inevitable double-digit loss.
Getting Run Out Of The Gym
The Jazz did an excellent job creating easy looks despite the absence of their starting point guard, Ricky Rubio. Utah recorded 16 fast break points, routinely getting to the rim for high-percentage shots. Portland finished the game losing the points in the paint battle 44-30, and also finished with 7 fewer assists.
Utah’s length was deadly on both ends of the court. Joe Ingles was either open or shooting over a shorter defender for the majority of the night, which translated to 24 points for the Australian native. Alongside Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors each finished with a double-double. Unable to squeeze through tight windows created by Utah’s suffocating defense, the Blazers shot below 40 percent from the field for the majority of the game.
The Blazers are now in a two-game hole to the Jazz in the season series after tonight’s loss. Losing ground on Utah could have disastrous implications, as both squads are vying for spots in the bottom half of the Western Conference bracket. The Blazers will meet the Jazz again after the All-Star break on Feb. 23.
Dame Shines At The Line
Damian Lillard recorded 39 points in 39 minutes of action. He went a perfect 13-of-13 from the line, which helped offset his 2-8 performance beyond the arc. Utah’s pressure on Lillard in the pick-and-roll held him to just a single assist on the night.
CJ McCollum overcame a 2-9 shooting performance in the first half to finish with 22 points. He added 4 assists and 2 steals to his line after 37 minutes of work.
All eyes will be on Jusuf Nurkic after this one, as the big fella left the game after experiencing soreness in his lower back and right hip. He was held scoreless and nabbed 3 rebounds in his brief 14 minutes of action.
Al-Farouq Aminu started hot with eight points, but disappeared from the scoring column after the first quarter.
Bring On The Champs
Our friends at SLC Dunk will be celebrating the ninth win in a row for the Jazz to start the week.
The Blazers will return to action on Valentine’s Day to host the Warriors.
—Steve / @SteveDHoops / BEdgeSteve@gmail.com