The Portland Trail Blazers dropped a game to the Utah Jazz on Tuesday evening, losing 115-99. The Blazers had solid performances from Jerami Grant with 26 points (3-6 from three) and Deandre Ayton with 22 points and 10 rebounds. But it was not enough to overcome Jordan Clarkson’s game high 30 points and Lauri Markkanen’s 21 points and 9 rebounds. The Blazers got down early and could never get back over the hump to take the lead.
Whenever the Blazers would get close, they would commit an unforced error, leading to an easy bucket for the Jazz. Portland had hope at the beginning of the fourth quarter after Skylar Mays made an up-and-under layup with 11:01 remaining to bring his team within 2 points at 93-95. But Red said it best in Shawshank Redemption, “Hope is a dangerous thing...” From that point on it felt like someone from the Jazz put a lid on the hoop. The Blazers didn’t score again until the 5:18 mark, when the game was mostly out of reach. This battle for primacy in West Group A for the inaugural NBA Cup went to the Utah Jazz.
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Toumani Camara got his first start of the season, replacing Matisse Thybulle. The coaching staff must have felt the starting lineup needed a jolt of hustle, offensive rebounding, and length. The starters got that and more from Camara, who played like his life depended on it. He would challenge the shooter, then make it back into the paint for a rebound.
On offense, Camara’s sole purpose is to crash the glass and buy extra possessions for the Blazers. He also started off the game with a three that gave the Blazer their largest lead of the contest. He would add another triple to finish the night with 9 points on 3-6 shooting, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, and 2 blocks.
To all this, Camara added multiple back taps and deflections, applying pressure on Utah’s big men to keep a body on him. It was tough to see Thybulle come off bench since he has been playing so well on the offensive side of the ball, but there is something special about Camara, and I’m glad Chauncey Billups decided to give him more minutes and a starting nod tonight.
Feed the big man to keep him happy is a cliché from another era. Deandre Ayton has the opposite personality type, seemingly happy when no offense is run through him. Tonight that was not the case. The Blazers made it a point to get Ayton the ball often. Ayton did not disappoint. He finished with a season-high 22 points on 10-17 shooting, 10 rebounds (5 offensive), and 3 assists.
Ayton’s jumper is a pleasant surprise, but it’s really his passing and feel around the rim that stands out. Tonight against the Jazz he was able to connect on multiple hook shots in the paint and jump shots at the high post. There was also a nice high-low game going on between Ayton and Grant that has potential to be a deadly weapon as the season progresses. Ayton is now 10 games into his Blazers career, and like a fine wine, his offensive game has gotten better over time.
Portland’s center was steady on defense tonight as well. He got involved in multiple switches that had him guarding out on the perimeter. That was not an issue. His ability to be quick on his feet allows him to close out and still fight for rebounds. He’s able to keep a man in front of him and recover on drives to the hoop. Compared to past Blazer big men, Ayton looks like a gazelle on defense.
I’m going to keep writing about turnovers until the Blazers clean this area up. I know they are young, and I know they are missing key guards, but the way the ball is being given away has me pulling out my hair. It’s the reason the team falls behind in games and can’t come back when trailing in the second half.
Because of his red hot start to the season, Shaedon Sharpe is getting doubled on drives to the hoop and when he catches the ball on the wing. He was better tonight with his decision-making, committing only 3 turnovers, but they all seemed to be momentum-killers when the Blazers needed a basket.
The Jazz converted 23 points off of 17 Blazer turnovers. When you’re a young team and missing three starting level guards, you have to keep the unforced errors to a minimum if you’re going to win games. Ayton and Camara can crash the offensive boards, the Blazers just need shot attempts.
One half of the bash bros was left on the bench tonight, but his impact was still felt throughout the game. Jabari Walker played 21 huge minutes. He scored 12 points, 5-7 from the field and 2-3 from the three point line. Walker also added 8 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block.
Walker looked comfortable shooting the ball, especially from deep. He was hunting for his shot and it was falling. If Walker had taken more attempts, he would have doubled his scoring output tonight. But as always, his rebounding, active hands, and never quit attitude was on full display.
Walker plays like that guy at the gym during pick up ball that tries just a little too hard. You love him when he’s on your team, but can’t stand it when he’s not. Portland needs a role player like Walker coming off the bench. Sharpe may be the breakout player for the Blazers, but Walker has made the biggest leap from season one to season two.
The Blazers looked tired tonight against the Jazz, and it was evident during the 16-0 run from Utah in the fourth quarter that closed out the game. Chauncey and his staff pretty much played seven guys, with Jamaree Bouyea and Duop Reath eating up sminutes but not quite having the same impact as they did against the Lakers on Sunday. The Blazers had open shots in the fourth quarter, but most of them fell short. That’s always the indicator of tired legs. Sharpe missed a pair of free throws and Grant split a pair that would have cut down the Jazz lead.
Injuries and lack of depth are starting to take their toll on the young Trail Blazers. We will see how much gas is left in the tank for tomorrow night against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Portland will be back in action against the Cleveland Cavaliers tomorrow at 7:00 Pacific.