The Portland Trail Blazers entered Wednesday’s game against the Utah Jazz desperate to create some positive momentum as they look to get their season back on track. As he has time and time again, star Damian Lillard answered the call. Lillard erupted for a season-high 60 points to lead Portland to the 134-124 victory in one of the signature performances of his impressive NBA career; falling just one point shy of tying a career-high for single-game scoring.
Jerami Grant added 19 points for the Blazers, while Anfernee Simons had 16—hitting crucial shots in the fourth quarter with Lillard resting on the bench. Lauri Markkanen led the Jazz with 24 of his own, while the Utah bench combined for 58—nearly half of the team’s offensive production.
For a quarter-by-by-quarter breakdown of the action, see our Instant Recap. The following were the key storylines from Wednesday night.
The Dame Game
Dame Time came early, and stayed on throughout the entire. As the Blazers slogged through an ugly opening quarter, it was Lillard who carried them offensively to keep them afloat against the sharp-shooting Jazz. He then keyed an 11-0 run in the second quarter to push the team out front. The third quarter belonged to him, as he scored 24 in the frame (the Jazz had 27 as a team), at one point scoring 20 consecutive points for the Blazers.
Even in the fourth—as Utah threw the proverbial kitchen sink at him defensively—he managed ten more points to reach the 60 mark for the fourth time in his career, tied for the third most occurrences in NBA history behind only Wilt Chamberlain and Kobe Bryant.
The way he went about it was just as impressive. Dame’s 60 came on an uber-efficient 21-29 from the field, 9-15 from distance, and 9-10 from the line with a shot chart that belongs in the Louvre. He added seven rebounds, eight assists, and three steals, and is the only player in NBA history with three separate games of at least 60 points, five rebounds and five assists—according to ESPN Stats and Info.
While Dame was the story of the night, there was another key positive development for the Blazers to draw from. After an electric second quarter in which the team put 47 points on the board, they were able to carry and even expand on that momentum into the second half. Blazer fans have seen their share of explosive stretches followed by complete meltdowns throughout the season, most notably this weekend against the Los Angeles Lakers. That wasn’t the case against the Jazz.
While Lillard deserves the lion’s share of the credit, Simons played a key role early in the fourth quarter as well. Despite an otherwise miserable night, his and-one drive followed by a deep three helped Portland survive the time with Lillard off the court. While the duo combined for turnovers on four consecutive possessions shortly after, they were able to buckle down after a timeout and squash a potential Jazz rally—coasting to the relatively easy finish.
While the defense wasn’t great, the team stepped up when they needed to and showed plenty of energy. A particular stretch during the second quarter set the tone, as the Blazers forced steals that led to a number of transition buckets on the other end of the floor to get back in the game after the slow start.
Bench Steps Up
It’s no secret that one of Portland’s most significant issues is their lack of offensive production off the bench. However, in another positive development, the second unit looked capable scoring the basketball. They combined for 20 points in the first half, with Drew Eubanks, Nassir Little, Gary Payton II and Shaedon Sharpe each hitting at least two first goals over the first 24 minutes. Dame’s brilliance limited their opportunities in the second half.
Eubanks and Little were impressive at both ends of the floor, logging big minutes as starters Josh Hart and Jusuf Nurkic exited early due to injury. Their energy proved to be infectious, and the duo complimented their star counterparts extremely well, including down the stretch. Eubanks finished with a near double-double, along with two steals and two blocks, while Little logged a season-high 32 minutes and registered a game-high +17 during his time on the floor.
In addition, the small-ball lineup kept Utah’s elite rookie shot-blocker Walker Kessler off the floor for much of the second half.
The Blazers (23-25) will look to make it three in-a-row as their homestand continues against the Toronto Raptors on Saturday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. PT from Moda Center.