The Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz engaged in one of the strangest games in recent memory on Friday night, a game full of technical fouls, ejections, improbable shots, and a contest-defining blown call at the end. It was a tale of heart and perseverance, of mistakes and overcoming them, of injustice and almost—but not quite—redemption. Utah ended up winning 117-114 on a night when Portland played with a team of seven due to injuries and ejections. Damian Lillard scored 42 and CJ McCollum 27 in the loss.
The Blazers came out firing behind Lillard. Mr. Everything announcing early that this would be a decent night as he hit trademark deep threes. Portland went up 10-4 before a stunned Jazz squad called timeout to talk over the matter. Utah countered with Rudy Gobert going head-to-head with the undersized and outmatched Caleb Swanigan, starting due to a leg contusion for Hassan Whiteside. No matter...Utah’s defense was too soft and Portland’s shooting too pure. The Blazers hit nine straight as the quarter dwindled. They led 38-32 after one, courtesy of Lillard’s 16 points.
The quarter was marred when Anfernee Simons got undercut and slammed his head against the court. He was taken directly to the locker room with a concussion.
The marring happened early in the second period, as Trevor Ariza lost his composure and drew two technical fouls in quick succession. Getting ejected was inopportune on a night when the Blazers were already shorthanded. Portland had but two reserves remaining at that point.
Utah ripped off a 17-4 run before the cavalry took the floor in the form of the returning Lillard. He hit the hardwood, immediately dishing a three-pointer to CJ McCollum and converting a conventional and-one off of a layup.
A couple minutes later the game got ugly again, as Carmelo Anthony drew a technical foul scuffling with Royce O’Neale. Lillard brought the beauty back by hitting yet another 30-footer. McCollum chimed in, hitting wide-open triples off of a defense concentrating on Dame. That pattern would continue through the rest of the half. Lillard either scored or passed to an open shooter. Portland led 72-58 at the half.
The Jazz made the inevitable run as the third period started. They played fast and spread the floor, trying to make the Blazers move on defense. Portland’s supporting cast started missing shots. Lillard still struck, but the Jazz started hitting with regularity too. Utah closed the gap to single-digits, but couldn’t find enough momentum to catch up entirely.
Then Portland’s outside shots started coming up seriously short, a sure sign of fatigue. They had neither the size nor energy to get it inside. Portland shot only 1-8 from distance in the frame. As the quarter closed, Utah kicked it into high gear, forcing turnovers, flicking the ball around, and running. The Blazers couldn’t keep up. Portland held the most threadbare lead possible, 89-88, after three.
Portland found a new level of grit at the start of the fourth. Bereft of legs, they pounded the ball towards the rim. Anthony and Trent Jr. bulled their way into the lane for shots and rebounds, an impressive display given the circumstances.
Then Utah took control with more high-flying, fast-moving offense that Portland just couldn’t stop with seven players on the second night of a back-to-back. The Jazz streaked ahead. Lillard and McCollum got momentum back as the game closed, but their teammates couldn’t rise. Portland’s offense ended up sporadic and sputtering.
But the game wasn’t over. The Jazz inexplicably settled for jumpers against a lane populated by tired Portland defenders, not a one over 6’8. Utah’s relative incompetence allowed Lillard’s strikes to make an outsized difference in the margin. A Dame three tied the game at 112 with 1:11 left. After the teams traded scores, Donovan Mitchell converted with 20 seconds remaining, leaving Portland with the last shot.
Lillard got loose for a layup, which got blocked in an OBVIOUS Gobert goaltend which was not called:
CORRECTION, this is a foul AND a goaltend. There is no way the refs can miss that. They’ll get no solace from the L2M report tomorrow pic.twitter.com/ZQnEU6VIAW— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) February 8, 2020
Portland intentionally fouled and the Jazz converted only one of two free throws, leaving the Blazers down three with no timeouts left. Anthony brought it down, got double-teamed, and found Caleb Swanigan wide open in the corner for a three. That went...about as you’d expect. Portland ended up down three after a heroic, harried evening.
You cannot fault the Blazers for their effort in this game. They had every reason on the planet to cede the victory to Utah. They never did. It was everything you could have asked for, the direct opposite of Portland’s games earlier in the season.
Considering the circumstances—half the team out, Simons concussed, Ariza ejected—the Blazers played incredibly. They overcame every obstacle the Jazz could throw at them, from Rudy Gobert to Donovan Mitchell. They had trouble containing Bojan Bogdanovic, but that would not have proved decisive had everything else gone right.
The two enemies the Blazers couldn’t defeat did not wear Jazz uniforms.
Fatigue got to Portland on the second night of a back-to-back, a night when four players were pressed into 40-minute shifts (rounding up). Missed jumpers and layups in the second half kept them from holding off Utah’s run.
The referees also played a huge part in this game. They (rightly) ejected a combative Ariza early. They kept Caleb Swanigan, Mario Hezonja, and CJ McCollum on their toes with multiple fouls. Then they blew the goaltend call late. For better or worse, officiating was the story of the evening.
Triples also told the tale tonight. Behind Lillard, the Blazers could not miss in the first half. The shooting cooled as legs got tired, but Portland still ended up 17-40, 42.5%. That’s a Houston Rockets rate of shooting with a Utah Jazz hit percentage. Nice.
Forty-Two for Lillard
Other Blazers besides Lillard scored in this game. McCollum had 27, Trent Jr. 16. A couple McCollum/Anthony iso’s aside, every Portland player owed every shot to Dame. When he wasn’t hitting (16-30 from the floor, 8-14 from the arc) he was drawing so much attention from Utah’s defense that his teammates were wide open.
Dame. Was. Everything.
It’s one thing to make Hassan Whiteside and Trevor Ariza look good. When you’re making Mario Hezonja into a bona fide scorer, you’re something special.