The Portland Trail Blazers won big tonight, 121-105 against the Utah Jazz at the Moda Center. It wasn’t even as close as the ending score would indicate. Maybe it was the thought of Thanksgiving tomorrow, but the Blazers led wire to wire for the fist time all season. Jerami Grant led all scorers with 30 points, but the defense and all-around play of Jabari Walker stole the show. The Blazers also saw the return of Scoot Henderson in limited minutes. Having both Scoot and Malcom Brogdon back helped lead the Blazers to their best offensive first half of the season. It’s good to see the potential of this young Blazers team when healthy.
The Jazz were led by Lauri Markkanen’s 24 points, but Utah was never able to cut into the Blazers lead after halftime.
If you missed the game, you can find our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After you’ve read that, here are the details that defined the contest.
The Main Course
Jabari Walker played his best game as a pro tonight and he deserves his flowers. Walker finished with 19 points on 8-15 shooting, 2-3 from deep. He added 10 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. He was simply spectacular, setting the tone with energy, offensive rebounding, and scoring touch around the rim.
Walker’s superpower is his ability to track down the ball. It’s like he knows where the ball is going before anyone else on the floor does. He continually wins loose balls from guys bigger and faster than him.
Tonight the Blazers were forced to play small ball with center Deandre Ayton sitting out injured. Duop Reath got the start and played well, but the lineup with Walker at the 5 really gave the Jazz fits. He’s not a natural center, he played the small ball role to perfection. The Golden State Warrior teams of old would play Draymond Green at the 5. Walker can affect the game in the same way. His shooting from three makes him great in that role. He has good form and he needs to keep shooting when the other team drops a man back into the paint. Time will tell, but it looks like the Blazers have struck gold with their second-round pick
The Blazers forced the Jazz into 16 first half turnovers and 24 total for the game. To say they were flying around the court on the defensive side of the ball would be a drastic understatement. Toumani Camara hunted down blocks like a man possessed. Walker was ripping the ball away every time a Jazz player drove on him. But if the Blazers were an orchestra tonight, Matisse Thybulle was the conductor. The two-time all-defensive team player was reading passing lanes like he knew the ending of the book. A play on Jordan Clarkson at the 2:36 mark of the second quarter to steal the ball was masterful.
Thybulle being able to guard 1 through 5 on the opposing team makes him a defensive weapon. His defensive pressure on Markkanen to force a jump ball at the 2:42 mark of the third quarter was a prime example of his ability to guard everyone on the floor. Adding 13 points on 5-9 shooting is the icing on the cake.
Give Me All The Sides
There is no doubt the Blazers are a different team when Malcom Brogdon is on the floor. It is not a coincidence that their two best shooting nights from deep have come since Brogdon’s return from injury. The Blazers are dead last in the NBA at 31% from three point range, but you wouldn’t know that by watching tonight’s performance against the Jazz and their last game versus the Phoenix Suns.
Brogdon, is so good at calming the Blazers down on offense and finding guys in their sweet spots. The Blazers started the game 6-12 in the first quarter and ended the game 17-39 from beyond the arc. They looked confident and ready to shoot when they caught the ball. If the Blazers continue to shoot the three at this pace, they might play themselves out of a potential Top 3 pick in the June NBA Draft.
Family Coming Back Into Town
Tonight marked the return of Scoot Henderson. He was on a minutes restriction and came off the bench for the Blazers. Now sporting protective goggles, he looked ready to attack from the minute he stepped onto the court. I would expect nothing less from a 19-year-old kid who was the third pick in the draft and has something to prove. I can hear the coaches yelling, “Be quick but not in a hurry!” whenever Scoot has the ball.
Henderson is so lightning quick with the ball in his hands that sometimes it forces him into tough shots at the rim after he beats his initial defender. The old Scoot, pre-ankle-injury, would force a bad shot or commit a turnover. Tonight we saw growth in his decision-making. He ended the night with 7 assists, most of them coming after drives to the hoop and kicks out to the open shooter. Henderson draws so much attention that he should be a 10 assist guy every night. It was just one game, but it was good to see him back on the court for the Blazers.
What’s For Dessert?
Tonight’s game felt like the perfect storm for the Blazers. The defense was humming, the three ball was falling, and intensity was beaming from everybody playing meaningful minutes. Chauncey Billups has had his ups and downs as Portland’s head coach, but tonight felt like the formula for success that he has been trying to achieve since he stepped off the plane in 2021. This performance mirrored his playing career: gritty defense, timely shooting, leadership.
This season could be described as a massive audition for Portland players while building on his philosophy for success. Which Blazers are going to show the grit, timely shooting, and leadership needed to take the next step?
The Blazers will get a few days off before heading east to take on Damian Lillard and the Milwaukee Bucks in a Sunday matinee. Tip is set for 12:30pm Pacific.