Following a brief two-day holiday break, the Portland Trail Blazers started out flat against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City Thursday night, trailing by as many as 23 points before pulling to within a single possession after a spirited fourth quarter comeback. They were unable to hit the big shot in the closing seconds, and ultimately lost the game 121-115 despite the late heroics.
Damian Lillard led the Blazers with 34 points, while Donovan Mitchell scored a game-high 36, doing much of his damage in the second half to will the Jazz to victory.
The Jazz jumped out to an quick 12-2 lead, sparked by hot-shooting from Joe Ingles and second-chance opportunities keyed by the offensive rebounding proficiency of Rudy Gobert. After an early timeout (and an Ingles technical foul for taunting), the Blazers started to get their offense going, thanks to a heavy does of Carmelo Anthony. Unfortunately, their defense couldn’t slow down the Jazz attack on the other end, so they were unable to chip away at the lead, trailing 37-22 at the break.
Utah went 7-10 from distance in the frame, while Ingles accounted for 14 points on a perfect 5-5 shooting, including 4-4 from three-point land.
The Blazers opened with a 9-0 run over the first two and-a-half minutes, led by an aggressive Anfernee Simons. However, the Jazz quickly responded thanks to a spark from the recently-acquired Jordan Clarkson, extending the lead back to double-digits. Utah’s shooting from beyond the perimeter cooled significantly after the exceptional start, and the Blazers were able to keep the game competitive for much of the period as the teams went back-and-forth. The Jazz went on a late run to extend their lead over the final minutes, before a Kent Bazemore three made it 62-52 going into halftime.
CJ McCollum was just 1-8 from the field in the first half, and outside of spurts from both Simons and Anthony, the Portland offense relied heavily on Lillard, who went for 17 in the half on 5-8 shooting.
The Jazz went on an 14-0 run after McCollum opened the half with a three, and ballooned their lead to 21 at the eight-minute mark, with Mitchell knocking down a couple of shots after a quiet start to the night. Late in the frame, Lillard went on a personal 8-0 run to pull the Blazers within 15. After a timeout, however, Mitchell went on a 6-0 run of his own to restore order for the Jazz, who took a 96-76 lead into the fourth.
Mitchell had 16 points in the quarter, scoring their final 10 of the period.
The Blazers had a tremendous start to the game’s final stanza, starting on a 7-0 run, and slowly but surely whittling the lead away as McCollum started to find his rhythm and the Jazz went cold on the other end. Simons pulled the Blazers within three on a jumper at the five-minute mark, and a McCollum layup on the next possession made it 103-102 before the Jazz called timeout with 4:40 left in the game, capping a 26-7 Portland run.
The teams went back-and-forth over the final few minutes. After a potential game-tying three from Anthony was blocked by Gobert with 20 seconds remaining, the Jazz were able to secure the game at the free-throw line to hold on for the 121-115 victory.
Battle of the Backcourts
While early on it looked to be the “Joe Ingles Show”, the game ended up featuring solid performances from all four starting guards. Ingles did the majority of his work in the first quarter, and while sprinkling in a few timely shots after that (finishing with 26 points), it was Mitchell who carried Utah down the stretch. He put the team on his back in the third, and after Portland’s big run, was able to respond in the final minutes, including a back-breaking three-pointer late to put the Jazz up five after the Blazers closed the gap to two.
For Portland, McCollum shook off a terrible first half to finish with a respectable 25 points on 10-24 shooting, and keyed the Blazer comeback with Lillard on the bench. Lillard was pretty consistent throughout the night, and deserves a lot of credit for virtually single-handedly keeping the Blazers in the game in the third quarter to make the comeback possible.
The second-year pro has had a difficult month, but was a major factor in tonight’s comeback effort. He was locked-in all night to lead an abbreviated bench unit to a strong showing. Ant finished with 15 points on 7-9 shooting, and also had a career-high 10 rebounds for his first career double-double. His strong play allowed him to remain on the court down the stretch in place of Bazemore, who was largely ineffective.
The Jazz were able to get off to their great start thanks to three-point shooting, but they were even more effective in the paint—particularly off of the pick-and-roll. Gobert played a large part in this, and his screens (and re-screens) gave Utah’s play-makers the space they needed to attack what was a lackluster defensive effort from Portland. Though the Jazz went cold in the fourth, the fact that they were able to score at will for much of the night, shooting a scorching 57%, continues to raise a red flag going forward.
The Blazers host the Los Angeles Lakers, potentially playing without LeBron James, on Saturday night.