The Jazz cruised to a double-digit victory over the Trail Blazers to open the 2020-21 regular season. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert each notched 20 points in Utah’s decisive 120-100 win. For the Blazers, Damian Lillard failed to record a point in the first half—leading to a considerable halftime deficit. Outside of Lillard, CJ McCollum finished with 23 points and Carmelo Anthony produced 15 points off the bench.
It was a rough opening night in Portland. Here is a second look at the action.
CJ McCollum opened the scoring for the Blazers with a quick five points. Utilizing screens on both his early field goals, McCollum found daylight both inside and outside of the arc. The former Lehigh standout was not the only Blazers player to get involved with early offense. Crisp passing and two three-pointers from Derrick Jones Jr. helped push Portland’s lead to 13-6 through five minutes of action.
That early flurry triggered a timeout from Utah. The Jazz emerged from the brief break on a mission. Fueled by efficient shooting and solid rebounding, the Jazz quickly climbed out from behind the Blazers and secured a double-digit lead. Gary Trent Jr. managed to get the Blazers back within single digits by converting a late-quarter three-pointer off a kick-out pass from Lillard. The Jazz finished the frame with a 32-25 advantage.
The Jazz did not let off the gas pedal to start the second quarter. Utah’s second unit, thanks to Jordan Clarkson, dissected a slow-footed Blazers squad from all three levels. The Jazz created open looks off bone-crushing screens and kick-out passes with little resistance. In the paint, Portland’s scrambling backline defense continued to leave the window open for Utah to secure offensive rebounds.
Joe Ingles and Donovan Mitchell combined for 18 points in the second frame as the Jazz pushed their lead to 20-plus points. For the Blazers, only five players entered the locker room with a made field goal in the first 24 minutes of action. Lillard was not among those five players. Utah finished the second quarter with a sturdy 65-44 lead.
Lillard managed to erase the goose egg in his points column in the first four minutes of the third quarter with two inside-the-arc conversions. Regardless of Lillard’s brief scoring burst, the Blazers had no answer for the Jazz’s offensive attack. Mitchell cruised through the lane and completed pick-and-roll looks with Rudy Gobert with ease. If you squinted just enough, Ingles’ facilitating exploits made his look similar to Luka Doncic.
Portland did manage to stop the bleeding in the middle of the quarter. For three minutes, the Blazers notched seven points and simultaneously held the Jazz scoreless. Utah withstood Portland’s rally, though. The Jazz finished the third quarter with a 26-point advantage.
CJ McCollum, Trent and Melo did their best to get the Blazers back into the action to start the final frame. Despite a spirited effort from that trio, Portland was unable to cut into the Utah’s 20-point advantage. Coach Terry Stotts turned to the deep bench with just over four minutes left on the clock.
Wednesday’s game was an excellent exercise in comparisons. The Jazz, with one or two actions, could get to any spot on the floor on offense. For the Blazers, the Jazz effectively pushed Lillard out of his comfort zone on almost every possession.
In the paint, Nurkic looked a step slow and stuck between two defensive schemes. If he dropped too low, Utah took advantage of an open jumper. If the big fella came up to guard the ball handler, the Jazz would drop it down low for a finish at the rim. Both Mitchell and Ingles looked borderline unstoppable in pick-and-roll sets.
To make matters worse for the Blazers’ defense, they were unable to prevent the Jazz from capturing offensive rebounds when a stop did occur. Utah finished with 12 offensive rebounds and won the overall rebounding battle 59-40.
The Blazers’ offense also endured a night full of struggles. Too many possessions ended with forced looks from Lillard and Melo. Outside of that duo, Rodney Hood and Robert Covington struggled to make a dent in the action. Hood and Covington combined for a single point. On the positive side, Jones connected on three of his five three-point attempts and Kanter was reliable in the post. Kanter, in 26 minutes of action, connected on all seven of his field goal attempts for 14 points.
Given the Blazers’ defensive lapses, Wednesday’s loss is tough to judge. It felt like almost all of Portland’s possessions unfolded against a set and competent defense.
The Blazers return to action against the Rockets on Saturday (maybe).