After a brutal second-half collapse against the Golden State Warriors last game, the Portland Trail Blazers took to the road to square off against an injury-depleted, slumping inconsistent Utah Jazz squad. It was another easily winnable game for the Trail Blazers – all they had to do was to play the game at their own pace and pressure the home team into a bad offensive flow. Thankfully, they did just that, and never trailed in what was a close, but important victory for Portland.
As stated earlier, Portland was conducting the game in the lead for the entirety of the 48 minutes. It certainly helped that they outscored the Jazz 27-18 in the first quarter, giving them a solid cushion that held strong as the half-time interval approached. The Jazz took the second quarter 24-22, but always found themselves behind the Trail Blazers at every twist and turn of the game, and found themselves down 49-42 at the break. Utah actually chipped the lead to only four points midway through the third, but Portland embarked on a run that put the home team away for good, extending the lead all the way up to 12 points, by virtue of a 30-25 score-line. The fourth quarter was still competitive, as starters for both teams logged heavy minutes. Utah won the quarter 20-19, but more importantly, Portland won the whole 48-minute battle. Holding on to the lead for such a long period of time eventually wore down the valiant effort by the Jazz.
Utah certainly had their chances to pull within inches away from Portland’s lead. But their cold shooting in two separate instances doomed them, with the culprits being C.J. Miles and Gordon Hayward, among others. Utah began the game hitting only 3 of their first 12 shots from the floor, and similarly kick-started the fourth by bricking their first six shots (and scoring only 2 points in a 5 minute-span) of the final frame.
In contrast, Portland went on a tear midway through the third quarter, scoring 11 straight points on a run fueled by Brandon Roy and former Utah player Wesley Matthews, as they conspired together to eliminate the crowd’s energy. The Trail Blazers were undoubtedly the more consistent team on the night, as they made their shots when necessary, as Utah flubbed away whatever chances they received, not being able to muster up the magic that saw them defeat the Lakers earlier this week.
Five Trail Blazers tallied in double-figures for the game, initiating a spread-option offense quarterbacked by the seasoned Andre Miller. Despite shooting 1-9 for only 5 points, Miller grabbed 5 rebounds, dished 12 assists, and was involved in many of the successful offensive sets run by Portland. One of the key beneficiaries was Gerald Wallace, who rained in 29 points, on 10-18 shooting (4-6 from behind the arc), as well as 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. Nicolas Batum returned to the starting five, and continued his hot streak from the field, going 9-13 for 21 points, while pulling down 3 rebounds, collecting 2 steals and blocking a shot.
A player that will certainly be counted on to deliver come playoff time was Wesley Matthews, who posted at least 16 points for the 3rd straight contest, this time scoring 18 on 4-7 from the field, and an 8-8 performance at the free-throw line. He also hauled in 7 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal in his 32 minute span of playing time. LaMarcus Aldridge wasn’t as big of a factor in terms of offensive output, shooting just 6-19 for 12 points and having four of his shots blocked, but he still ripped down 11 rebounds for another double-double. He also picked up only one foul, so he was able to challenge and contest Utah at the rim whenever necessary. Brandon Roy hit his first four shots of the game en route to an 11 point game on 5-8 attempts, while tossing in 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Although Roy still suffers from knee issues, he continues to feature as an important wild-card coming off of the bench, albeit a far different role than he used to commandeer.
Utah also had its fair share of solid contributors, with four of their own players tallying in double-figure scoring. For the first time in eight games, Devin Harris returned to the Utah starting lineup, and even dropped 26 points on a 9-15 shooting performance, adding 2 rebounds and 5 assists. However, he ended up costing his team dearly in terms of possessions. Throughout 36 minutes of floor time, Harris ended up spilling the orange 7 times, losing valuable opportunities to slice the deficit down further. Frontcourt duo Paul Millsap (7-15) and Al Jefferson (4-10) each tallied double-doubles to varying degrees – Millsap with 19 points and 10 rebounds, and Jefferson with 10 points and 14 rebounds, along with 5 assists and 3 blocks.
Two Jazz players endured something of a “shooting gallery nightmare” performance – basically missing shots left, right and center. C.J. Miles was an unwilling patron to the show, gunning away for a 3-11 misadventure for only 6 points, and committed 5 fouls as well. He did register 3 assists and 2 blocks, but his overall performance was a complete white-wash. Gordon Hayward was another contestant, going only 1-5 from the field for 10 points, although he was 8-8 at the line. Nevertheless, it was a far cry from his 22-point game on Tuesday night against the Lakers.
Both teams finished even at the rebounding department, each pulling down 41 to constitute a dead heat in the frontcourt presence battle. Portland did command the overall shooting battle, claiming victories in field goal shooting (45.6% to 41.9%), three-point shooting (44.4% to 30.0%) and free-throw success (94.7% to 86.4%). The Trail Blazers also collected more assists than the Jazz (24 to 19), and turned the ball over less (10 to 12). Utah may have blocked the ball more often (6 to 3), but Portland pilfered more steals (8 to 6).
This game essentially defined Portland basketball. Closing space on shooters and relying on overall defensive brilliance and cutting off the opposition’s passing lanes when necessary, while having multiple targets that can contribute on the offensive end. The win improves Portland’s record to 46-33, moving the Trail Blazers a half-game up on the idle New Orleans Hornets (7th, 45-33), thus scoping out some breathing room for the playoffs. Portland now flies back home to take on the suddenly slumping Los Angeles Lakers, who have lost 3 consecutive games entering today’s action. A win for Portland could provide the momentum and bragging rights needed for a possible 1st-round playoff tilt, while lifting the team up the standings at the same time.