Its was a struggle for the Blazers through all of the first half before Jusuf Nurkic - who put up another monster stat line with 22 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 6 blocks and all 6 of his personal fouls - came alive during the third quarter and put the team on his back for a stretch where Portland seized momentum.
In the final frame, Utah threatened until the buzzer but some timely buckets from Damian Lillard were enough to fend off the Jazz and escape from a frigid Salt Lake City with a victory.
Although Lillard was reputably clutch, and the second unit deserves praise for holding its own, tonight is all about one man. With no doubt, the best matchup tonight was watching Nurkic vs. whichever poor Jazz player that happened to occupy his personal space. The Bosnian Beast lived every bit up to the namesake, especially during an exciting, back-and-forth and ultimately decisive third quarter where Nurkic wreaked absolute havoc unto every person in attendance at Vivint Smart Home Arena. He picked, he rolled, he finessed, he controlled the paint, he swatted shots - he swatted the shots of real life Mr. Fantastic Rudy Gobert - along with Lillard, the two worked the two-man game to near perfection and briefly took total control of the game.
At one point in the second half, seeds Nurkic had surely planted much earlier bore fruit for the Blazers when Gobert and Jae Crowder both earned technicals for separate vocal altercations with Nurk at the center of each.
Simply put, without Nurkic dialing it up to 11 Portland wouldn’t have been in a position to get a win tonight. He even vastly outplayed his counterpart in Gobert, who turned in a relatively ho-hum 10 points and 13 boards, and probably left the arena with one hefty Bosnian-sized pain in the you-know-what.
Efforts like this are starting to become more and more regular - watch out.
The Blazers will complete another road back-to-back tomorrow night against the Oklahoma City Thunder.