The decimated Portland Trail Blazers didn’t roll over on Wednesday evening, but they didn’t exactly put up much resistance either, losing at home to the rolling Utah Jazz 120-105. Damian Lillard and Norman Powell had 32 points apiece in the loss, but the Blazers struggled to get offense from elsewhere.
With Portland lacking true centers with meaningful NBA experience to contend with Utah’s immense size, the Jazz were able to flex mismatches galore. Rudy Gobert punished the Blazers near the rim as he effortlessly brushed off shoulder-level defenders who probably wished they could be anywhere but fighting for space with the 7’1” behemoth. This isn’t what Tony Snell signed up for. Portland had to just grit their teeth and hold on for dear life.
For much of the opening period, however, that life was severely lacking. The Blazers’ shooting was ice cold to start the contest and they quickly fell into a 16-3 hole. As Portland shuffled bodies towards Gobert, that left daylight for shooters like Bogdan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles to let it fly. Nothing was going for Portland.
The saving grace for the Blazers was Powell, who came alive with 12 points in the quarter to keep the limited fans in attendance from becoming comatose. A late run saw Portland close the gap to within five points at 32-27, but that was as close as they would get the rest of the way. Utah led 36-27 after one.
Powell kept it rolling throughout the second quarter, as he and Lillard realized that if Portland was going to hang with the Jazz, it would be firmly on their backs. Together, the duo combined for a balanced inside-out attack, getting to the foul line with efficiency while peppering in the occasional triple. Powell added another 13 points in the period while Dame paced with six of his 15 first half points.
Still, the Blazers struggled to make up ground as Utah received a big boost from its bench. Hassan Whiteside provided just enough of a nuisance to earn the chagrin of his former fans and Rudy Gay turned back the clock a decade with 9 of his 14 first half points to help keep Portland at arm’s length.
The Jazz stretched their advantage to as high as 16 points, but a finish including a buzzer-beating three from Snell cut Portland’s deficit to 69-59 heading into the break.
While Powell started to cool off, it was Lillard’s turn to pick up the slack and keep the fight alive. Dame added another 12 points in the quarter, including a three that pulled Portland within just six points at 76-60 with 7:32 remaining. But the comeback was short-lived, as Utah’s length yet again proved too much to handle. Gobert and Whiteside continued to just plain work the Blazers in the paint with no physical peer available to stop them.
What one moment looked to have the makings of a potential upset, suddenly trended towards a blowout as the Jazz rebuilt a commanding 14-point lead heading into the final frame at 96-82.
By the fourth quarter, you could tell that most of Portland’s energy, and most in the arena as well, had dissipated. Gobert continued to Groot his way all over the Blazer interior defense and Utah pushed its lead up to 21 points with just under five minutes remaining. A late Powell-led run quickly trimmed that down to just 12 points in the final minutes, but it was too little, too late. Portland would come up short.
Stay tuned for the extended analysis of tonight’s game.
The Blazers will get a day off before heading to Los Angeles to take on the Lakers Friday on New Years Eve - tip is set for 7:30 p.m.