As if a last-second loss on Thursday to the Brooklyn Nets wasn’t hurtful enough, the Portland Trail Blazers fell at the hands of fourth quarter heroics from Jordan Clarkson and the Utah Jazz on Saturday night, 118-113. Six Blazers scored in double figures, led by energy and heart from Josh Hart. Utah had a top-heavy attack, spearheaded by early aggression from Lauri Markkanen, steady 3-point shooting from Malik Beasley that extended their lead, and late game buckets from Clarkson that provided the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Contesting the long ball — a critique all season for the Blazers — continued to be a plague for the former number one team in the west. They let Beasley and Markkanen combine for nine of their team’s 14 three-pointers. The Jazz were very successful in driving the basketball and scoring in close. They also played good man defense and were excellent at extinguishing runs that Portland made throughout the final three quarters.
Damian Lillard was forced to exit the game in the third quarter with a nagging calf injury, and the Blazers showed poise and valiance in his stead. In lieu of his struggles from the field, they missed his Dame Time capabilities down the stretch, and as a result, have now fallen to 10-6 on the season, good for third in the conference, while Utah has usurped Portland, and are sitting comfortably atop the west.
Open shots were abundant prior to the first timeout. The Blazers started with fundamental off-ball screens on the baseline, freeing up Lillard off of the curl, who fed Hart cutting for an easy layup. Jerami Grant kept the focus on the inside, with a grown man move in the post for the deuce after a Markkanen triple went down. Utah brought into service a man defense, and so did Portland, but the former got many wide open attempts from 3. This included tries from Markkanen and Kelly Olynyk, who were fortunate (or unfortunate depending on your allegiance) to miss. The Finnish breakout star was aggressive early, scoring all nine of Utah’s points in the first seven minutes of the contest.
Portland was polished in diversifying their offensive playbook. They scored off of cuts, a la Anfernee Simons. They scored in the fast break on a feed from the Draymond Green-esque Hart to Jusuf Nurkic filling the lane. And, they swung the ball around, having four blazers touch the rock before Jerami Grant drilled a wide open corner trey. On the other side of the ball, Portland recorded many deflections in the passing lanes, and when the pick-and-roll was deployed, they’d always show two men, with the defender of the screener giving a hard show, to stop the downhill attack from Clarkson and Mike Conley.
Nurk was out there looking like Arvydas Sabonis with a two-dribble hook shot over the left shoulder on the block. Utah’s offense was rather stagnant, Drew Eubanks did his best Todd Rodgers impersonation by spiking two shots in close. For the Jazz, their bench came in and gave them a huge spark by quelling an 11-0 Blazers run midway through the quarter. Collin Sexton and Talen Horton-Tucker kept their foot on the gas, driving to the cup. Walker Kessler took advantage of an antsy Eubanks hunting for blocks, by roaming around in the dunker spot and dialing in a couple of bunnies. Shaedon Sharpe ended off the quarter for Rip City by keeping the defender on his hip on his trek to the rim, before exploding up for a runner off the glass.
At the end of one, the score was 23-20 in favor of the Blazers.
Nasir Little caught a pass and loaded up for a picture-perfect 3 that sounded sweet to the ears when it went through the net. Nurkic invited himself to the 3-point party and hit one of his own from the top of the key — an area he’s been fancying throughout this season. Simons saw that the party was jumping, and brought two triples to the event, catching fire. On the other end, Utah found success in the screen-and-roll, with Kessler and Jared Vanderbilt both getting wide open dunks in the dynamic offensive action.
Sexton looked like he had a picture of Damian Lillard on his wall and was throwing darts at it the night before, as once Dame came back in the game, he guarded him like Gary Payton, from 94 feet, with exaggerated tenacity. Once Sexton went to the bench, Malik Beasley vowed to keep the bench scoring going, as he was locked and loaded for four treys in the quarter. He almost singlehandedly cut the lead all the way down to a tied game, and then gave the Jazz a two-point lead at 43-41 with five and change to go.
Lillard’s shooting woes carried on from the first, going an ice-cold 0-7 from distance. His struggles rubbed off on Simons, or vice versa, as the backcourt combined for 2-14 from beyond the arc. Utah was resilient, and paced in their attack, slowly adding to their lead. A one possession game easily became two in a matter of moments. Clarkson and Markannen took the baton from Beasley, scoring the Jazz’s next seven points, all in the paint. In the highlight of the night, Lillard went baseline, and swung the ball to Nurkic up top, who didn’t settle for the open 3 but drove to the basket and drew the defender, before dumping the ball off to Josh Hart in the dunker spot, who put in the easy two via a reverse layup.
At the half, the Blazers trailed the Jazz 58-51, in a high scoring affair that saw Rip City relinquish 38 points from their opponent.
Utah looked like they weren't sure if they wanted to run a man or zone, and Josh Hart didn’t care to ask, as he drove hard to the bucket for an easy layup. Olynyk retorted with a 3 on the other end. Lillard broke his cold slump with a point-blank 3 from the middle of the floor off a hard Nurk screen that left Mike Conley a casualty of war. Later in the quarter, Olynyk earned two blocks — on a Grant corner 3 and a layup from Lillard — and Horton-Tucker rewarded the stellar defense from his teammate with a strong layup. Josh Hart showcased the best individual defense of the evening by locking up Clarkson and forcing a turnover. Going the other way, Dame and Nurk connected like two old friends in the screen-and-roll, and Nurk finished it with quite a bit of old English.
Unfortunately for Blazers fans, the struggle with contesting outside shots continued, as not enough pressure was put on Markkanen and his 27-foot attempt which came down successfully. Horton Tucker continued to have his way inside and his aggression was contagious. How so? Because the Jazz got two and-1 layups that silenced the crowd.
After Lillard missed 3 pointer number 11, he was 1-12 from deep, and 2-14 on the game. You can only imagine coach Chauncey Billups would’ve liked to see his star guard go to something else in his bag. As he went to the bench, his teammates kept up the fight, and slowly chipped into the lead. Eubanks had several inside buckets, including a dunk in transition off a lob from Justise Winslow. Jerami Grant scored another 3 from a second-chance opportunity that riled up the Moda Center to chant, “Defense” in unison. They got their wish as Eubanks raked in a block and on the other end Anfernee Simons hit a 3 before coming right back down and saying, “That wasn’t enough, here’s another one for you.” He capped off a 15-2 run that saw Portland narrow the deficit.
At the end of three, the Blazers trailed (no pun intended) 87-79.
Kelly Olynyk set the tone for the fourth with two notable flops. His artifice was emblematic of the subterfuge that the Jazz were utilizing in their half court sets, with many misdirections and fake screens. Malik Beasley put his fingerprints all over the quarter with more trifectas that were just not contested well enough.
But, the Blazers refused to throw in the towel, and once again channeled much of their late game heroic energy from previous games. A more ramped up defense led to two strips on defense, and two ensuing fast breaks that Josh Hart catalyzed. The Blazers would not come up empty handed on either affair.
Jerami Grant punched in a key 3 with over 3:30 to go and everyone in Portland was sensing yet another late-game comeback. Justise Winslow could sense it too, as out of the timeout, he caught the ball on the wing, and saw a slight opening, prompting him to drive with a purpose and find Eubanks who threw it down with authority and gave Portland the lead again.
The lead was short-lived. Horton-Tucker did what he had been doing all night, and placed the ball off the glass, evading Eubanks’ fingertips. Jordan Clarkson took the reigns and brought Utah home. He first walked into a triple on the wing in classic Carmelo Anthony-type fashion. Then, he put the dagger in the heart with an and-1 layup that warranted a roar from the young lion. He pushed the dagger all the way in with a midrange jay. Despite a valiant final surge, including a coast-to-coast layup from Josh Hart, time wasn’t on their side, and the Jazz did enough to win behind Clarkson’s heroics.
Final score for the night was 118-113 Utah.
Stay tuned for a more in-depth breakdown of tonight’s game from the Blazer’s Edge community.
The Portland Trail Blazers will look to get back in the win column against the rolling Milwaukee Bucks, while the Jazz are destined for a matchup versus the Los Angeles Clippers. Both games will take place on Monday, Nov. 21.