Playing their only game of the week on Wednesday night, the Portland Trail Blazers made it count—clobbering the Utah Jazz 132-105 in the final regular season meeting between the two teams. The season series finishes tied 2-2. Portland shot an impressive 50% from distance on the night, and despite a couple of modest Jazz runs, thoroughly dominated the contest from start to finish. Damian Lillard led all scorers with 36 points—while flirting with a triple-double—and Donovan Mitchell led Utah with 22 points of his own.
The Blazers jumped out to a tremendous start, leading 45-27 after the first period thanks in large part to 20 points (on 9-9 shooting) from CJ McCollum. Despite the Jazz starting the second quarter on an 8-0 run, the Blazers lead quickly ballooned again, as they led by as many as 24 points before taking a 16-point lead into the break.
Utah looked sharp in the opening minutes of the third quarter—before the Blazers embarked on a 17-0 run as their lead swelled to 29 entering the game’s final stanza. The team flipped on cruise control in the fourth, coasting to a 27-point victory before the final buzzer mercifully put the Jazz out of their misery.
Portland’s excellent first quarter set the tone for the evening, as the Jazz could never recover. McCollum was simply unconscious during the frame, scoring 20 points (he finished with 30) on an incredible 9-9 shooting. He wasn’t alone. The whole team looked fresh and energized, having had three full days off after their win against the Hawks on Saturday. Most importantly, they looked confident despite finding out shortly before the game that they would be without starting center Jusuf Nurkic.
The Blazers ball movement was on full display, as 10 of their 18 buckets in the first quarter were assisted by a pass. The team ended up shooting 75% from the field in the frame, and perhaps more impressive, committed only one turnover, which came on an offensive foul with under a minute remaining in the period.
With the NBA All-Star game reserves being announced on Thursday, this was Lillard’s final showcase—on national TV nonetheless—to make his case as an All-Star selection for the fourth time in his career. If there was any remaining doubt about his candidacy entering the night, any doubt should have been put to bed after it.
While McCollum stole the show in the first quarter, Lillard carried the baton into the second, helping maintain the Blazers’ stranglehold on the Jazz. He kept things going into the fourth quarter, when he was pulled around the seven-minute mark just two rebounds away from a triple-double. All told, he finished the night 12-21 from the field with 36 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists, in addition to two of the team’s seven steals.
Next Man Up
With Nurkic sitting the game out due to injury, Meyers Leonard drew his first start of the season—and rose to the occasion. The hammer had 16 points—eight of which came in the first quarter—along with six rebounds and four assists, while going 6-7 from the field in 25 minutes of action.
His backup, Zach Collins, also had a nice night. Collins registered 12 points and eight rebounds and a block, while being robbed of a second block (on Rudy Gobert nonetheless) due to a highly questionable foul call in the first half.
Without Nurk, the Blazers did struggle to defend the pick-n-roll. Gobert and Derrick Favors were both able to score pretty consistently off of it in the early going, but due to Portland’s offensive assault, the Jazz had to rely on the three ball just to keep up. It wasn’t falling for them, as they shot just 32% from the mark, including 22% in the first half. Overall, you have to figure the Blazers are satisfied with only allowing 105 points despite playing without their defensive anchor.
The Other Guys
Maurice Harkless had six points, and was a spark plug defensively—chipping in two steals.
Al-Farouq Aminu had a quiet night offensively, finishing 0-3 from the field and pulling down four boards in addition to his typical defensive effort.
Evan Turner returned from a one-game absence and had five points, four rebounds, five assists and a steal in 19 minutes of action.
Seth Curry had eight points, but his most notable moment came when he snatched away what would have been Lillard’s ninth rebound early in the fourth quarter—drawing the ire of the Moda Center faithful.
The Blazers are off until Tuesday, when they host the Miami Heat.