The Portland Trail Blazers had a tremendous first half, but wilted after halftime in a 122-103 loss to the first place Utah Jazz on Thursday night in Salt Lake City. Buoyed by the return of Jusuf Nurkic and leading by three at the break, they were outscored 69-47 in the second half en route to the blowout defeat.
Donovan Mitchell led the charge with 37 points for the Jazz, who also got a tremendous performance from Rudy Gobert, who finished with 18 points and 21 rebounds. Damian Lillard led the Blazers in scoring with 23 points, but struggled to find a rhythm in the second half, finishing just 3-12 from three-point land.
For a detailed rundown of the action, see our Instant Recap.
Here were the key takeaways from tonight’s game:
The Beast is Back
Jusuf Nurkic returned to the Portland lineup after a one game absence due to inflammation in his knee, and turned in a tremendous performance in the first half—particularly on the defensive end. The big man looked healthy and energized early on, providing staunch rim protection and setting up his teammates with excellent passing offensively.
Foul trouble limited his effectiveness in the second half, although he was able to do the majority of his scoring damage after the break. All told, Nurk finished with 10 points, six rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal in 22 minutes of action, going 4-8 from the field while committing five fouls.
After Tuesday’s nightmare against the Los Angeles Clippers, in which they gave up 47 points in the first quarter alone, the Blazers came out of the gates with a noticeably different intensity and focus against the Jazz. Utah’s poor shooting from distance certainly helped—they were just 5-20 from beyond the arc in the first half—but credit is due to Portland for playing with active hands and contesting shots defensively.
In addition, Portland generally made the correct reads offensively with few forced shots. They attacked the rim often and were able to find success despite Gobert’s imposing presence in the paint. Along with Nurkic, Nassir Little provided a big boost off of the bench, albeit in limited action. He scored four points in four minutes and provided excellent defensive energy on the other end. Despite the production, he was mostly relegated to garbage time in the second half.
Second Half Woes
Unfortunately, the good times didn’t carry past the halftime break. The Blazers were outscored 40-19 in a pivotal third quarter in which virtually nothing went right. The turning point came when Nurkic was whistled for an offensive foul with 6:41 remaining, his fourth personal. With the big man on the bench, the wind was removed from Portland’s sails, as the Jazz embarked on a 25-7 run to end the frame and never looked back.
Utah was able to find enough of a groove from distance, and also took advantage of a favorable matchup against Enes Kanter in the paint. They also had 14 offensive rebounds, converting them into 19 second chance points. Offensively, Portland stalled as their shots stopped falling. Carmelo Anthony had a particularly brutal night, going 2-8 from the field and 1-5 from three. Lillard and CJ McCollum combined to go 16-42 from the field, with most of the damage coming in the first half.
The Blazers host the Detroit Pistons on Saturday night in the first game of a back-to-back. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. PT.