The Portland Trail Blazers came into Salt Lake City losers of seven of their last eight and looking to stop the bleeding. The Utah Jazz meanwhile had won their last two, beating the Los Angeles Clippers and the Blazers’ next opponent, the Indiana Pacers.
In a very exciting and hard-fought game the Blazers emerged victorious by the score of 116-111. Simons finished with 45 despite only scoring two in the fourth quarter. Jerami Grant poured in 33 in another all-star caliber performance. The Jazz were led by Jordan Clarkson with 24 and Lauri Markkanen with 21. In spite of the result, the Blazers will be disappointed with their second-half turnovers. After having zero in the first quarter, they finished with 20, many of which could have been potential back-breakers had things gone slightly differently.
The Blazers got off to a fast start, scoring on their first six possessions. The Jazz countered with the three ball, but nevertheless Portland jumped out to a five-point lead, forcing a Utah timeout with 9:57 left in the quarter. The Blazers’ defense was active, forcing two early turnovers, and Portland took advantage of them with two successful fast breaks.
Markkanen came out of the timeout and promptly drilled a three and shortly after got fouled on another, giving him the opportunity to drain three shots from the charity stripe, which he converted. Lead erased plus an extra for Utah. Then the teams decided that imitation is the best form of flattery. They spent the next few minutes trading baskets, turnovers, and threes. What’s that I hear? Is that Anfernee Simon’s music? Three Ant makes from deep only broken up by a Jusuf Nurkic putback and suddenly Portland led by 10 as they went to commercial.
The Jazz were able to whittle away at the lead slightly, but a buzzer-beater circus shot by the man of the hour, Simons, meant that the quarter ended with the Blazers enjoying a 40-31 lead. Simons finished the quarter with a stupendous 23 points, while no other player for either team could achieve double figures.
Utah got off to a fast start and cut the lead to five, but the Blazers fought back by driving at Jazz big men and demonstrating stout defense. Shaedon Sharpe seemed to be involved in every play, sometimes in a good way and sometimes not so much. A third foul forced him to the bench a bit early, but not before collecting three rebounds and four points and touching the ball pretty much every time down the court. By the time Utah called timeout with 7:32 left in the quarter the Blazers had the lead back up to 11.
The Jazz huffed and puffed, but the Blazers did a a good job of keeping them largely at arm’s length. One of the biggest reasons is that the first Portland turnover of the evening came with 5:31 left in the second quarter.
Time for Simons to get involved again. After a number of possessions with Simons not getting any looks, the Blazers put Anfernee off the ball and things started to open up for him. The only way the Jazz could stop him was to foul him. That’s what they did, but unfortunately the refs swallowed their whistles in dubious circumstances or Ant might have gone for 40 in the half. As it was he finished the half with 33 and the Blazers led by nine, 69-60. It was a pleasing half of basketball for Portland, with the only negative thought being that the team probably feeling that they should be up by more.
The Blazers came out of the half a bit lethargic and Utah took advantage. A deep ball from Kelly Olynyk and another from Jared Vanderbilt forced a quick timeout from the Blazers with the lead cut to 4 at 71-67. Vanderbilt, a career 25.6% shooter from three, was 4-4 behind the arc, perhaps giving Chauncey second thoughts about the apparent strategy of leaving him completely alone in the corner.
Things didn’t get much better after the timeout. Simons led the rearguard action, but the Jazz continued on the front foot and were able to take the lead with 6:42 remaining in the quarter. The game was starting to get a bit frantic, and a few turnovers started to creep into the Blazers’ nearly pristine stat sheet.
An uncalled Nurkic foul stymied the Jazz on one end and led to a fast break for the Blazers. Utah, angered at the no-call, got called for a technical foul as well. Lead restored for Portland at 87-85. Both teams dialed up the aggressiveness on defense, but neither team could take control. The quarter ended 92-90 and set up a must-see fourth quarter.
Intensity stayed dialed up for both teams, especially on the defensive end. Every point was being earned. A Greg Brown III drive and dunk in heavy traffic also earned him a foul shot, which he duly converted. That gave the Blazers a narrow four point lead with 8:25 to go.
Utah was having problems converting from deep, with Clarkson and Malik Beasley in particular combining to go 1 for 10. This was somewhat balanced out by Blazers turnovers. Suddenly Simons was up to six turnovers and the team had 11 with the quarter half over. Still, Portland was able to keep their noses in front. A second chance three from Grant extended the Portland lead to six, but this was quickly cut to four by a Jazz second chance layup leading to a Blazers timeout. 107-103 with 3:50 left to play.
More sloppiness from the Blazers gave the Jazz opportunities which they gleefully took, knotting up the score 109-109. Grant split a pair of free throws followed by an Olynyk turnaround to give Utah the lead at 111-110. After a Simons drive was blocked and Olynyk committed a turnover, the Blazers had the ball with 35.7 seconds to go. Clarkson fouled Simons with 29.2 to go, and Simons drilled the free throws, giving the Blazers a one point lead. A Utah turnover gave the Blazer the ball back, in no hurry with time on their side. Grant faked one way and drove the other to the hoop, and he was fouled with just 6.4 seconds to go. Grant calmly sunk both foul shots to give them three point lead. On the other end, Simons stripped a Clarkson three attempt that bounced fortuitously off Clarkson’s leg out of bounds. Blazers’ ball. All that was left was for Grant to be fouled and make both free throws and seal the victory 116-11.
Joe Moore will have our extended recap soon!
No rest for the Blazers as they have to fly home and face the Indiana Pacers on Sunday. Game time is 6 p.m. Pacific.