The Utah Jazz carried an 11-game winning streak into their game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night. The team that torched the NBA prior to the All-Star break had every reason to be confident, playing at home, starting a healthy Rudy Gobert, sporting an amazing rookie in Donovan Mitchell to counter Portland’s dual-pronged attack from Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Once the ball tipped, though, the Blazers had all the confidence. Behind a great defensive effort from Moe Harkless and 50 points from their star backcourt, Portland pasted a 100-81 loss on the Jazz, staking an instant claim to the second half of the season.
Shuffle the deck
The matchup battle to start the game was interesting. Portland head coach Terry Stotts began with his starting small forward, and one of his best defenders, Maurice Harkless, on Utah’s best player, Donovan Mitchell. Eight minutes into the game, the Jazz were shooting 67% from the floor and 60 percent from 3. But the Blazers still led. How you ask? The defense of Maurice Harkless. Moe had 4 steals in those 8 opening minutes, most commonly on passes intended for Mitchell. His Mitchell responsibilities were superseding any kind of help responsibilities. When Mitchell did get the ball, he caused havoc, scoring 14 in the first half with four threes on 5-7 shooting.
Shoot it or lose it
The first half was sloppy. Both teams combined for 21 turnovers and 15 assists. Somehow, even with all of those turnovers, the two teams combined for just two fast break points in the half. The Jazz shot 40% from 3, but Portland was able to keep Utah’s offense uncomfortable. The Blazers found holes in the interior of the Utah’s D and headed into the break with a 53-47 advantage.
Jazz offense plays the Blues
The third quarter featured another strong defensive performance from the Blazers. Their perimeter defenders stayed extremely discipline on drives, and were able to hold the Jazz, the NBAs fourth most accurate three-point shooting team, to only one basket outside the paint in the quarter. The Blazers relied on Lillard, CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, and Al-Farouq Aminu for all of their third quarter offense and held the Jazz to 17 points for the second consecutive quarter. Portland led by as many as 17 and carried a 80-64 lead into the fourth.
Nothing Comes Easy
The Blazers did what the Blazers do and allowed the Jazz to make it interesting in the fourth. The crowd got into the game as Utah cut the lead to 9 on Jae Crowder jumper with 3 minutes left to play. Fortunately, that would be as close as the Jazz would get. McCollum followed the Crowder jumper with 3 straight mid-range jumpers; his own personal 6-0 run to put the game away. The Blazers came away victorious with a big, 19-point win.
They looked fresh today
Defense was the name of the game for Portland tonight. The Jazz looked like they were playing offense with a weighted fitness ball. Portland cut off kick-out passes from the interior but also were able to muck up the paint with outstretched hands and multiple sets of eyes. The Jazz scored just 17 points in each of the final 3 quarters and went 0-10 in the second half from long range. It wasn't just that Utah played poorly, Portland’s energy and discipline as a defensive unit caused the 18 Jazz turnovers off of 11 Blazer steals. Good defense led to a huge win for Portland on the road against a potential playoff foe.
Maurice Harkless - Harkless drew the Mitchell assignment, and although Mitchell still ended up with 21 points, Harkless did nothing short of a terrific job defensively. Six steals provide the obvious highlight of the night for Moe, but he was also able to dissuade passes coming Mitchell’s direction. The less that the ball was in the young rookie’s hands, the better Portland fared. Great effort from Moe tonight.
CJ McCollum - Harkless on Mitchell only made sense if CJ and Dame were able to hold their matchups. Harkless was able to stay on Mitchell for the bulk of the night because CJ did an outstanding job guarding the exterior against anyone that the Jazz put at the small forward position. McCollum can be a feisty defender at times and he looked locked in today. He also came up big offensively closing out the game when it looked like the Jazz were going to try to make a run at it.
Ed Davis - Ed just keeps giving the Blazers great minutes day in and day out. His effort and energy always deserved recognition. He also added some pretty beasty finishes in traffic.
Jusuf Nurkic - Utah started the game with back-to-back dunks from their big man Rudy Gobert. Jusuf tried to follow up by posting up Gobert and got his shot sent out of bounds UPS red. That looked like a make-or-break moment for the young big man. But Nurkic played great from that point forward. He was solid in the pick and roll, defended the key, and walked away with the largest +/- in the game at +28. I don't like that stat very much but in this case, the stat supported the eye test. Strong showing from Nurkic.
The Trail Blazers travel to Phoenix to face the Suns on Saturday at 6:00 PM, Pacific.