February 12, 2018, 12:00 am
Now that is a statement win. Unfortunately for the Portland Trail Blazers, though, they were on the wrong side of it against the Utah Jazz.
The surging Jazz manhandled the Blazers by a score of 115-96 on Sunday night, winning their ninth consecutive game and getting back to .500 for the first time since early December. They did it without a hobbled Ricky Rubio, too, but no one would ever know it given the way Utah decimated Portland on both sides of the ball. Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with 27 points, while Joe Ingles frustrated the Blazers all night en route to 24 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals on 12 shot attempts.
The Blazers, almost unbelievably based on this game’s outcome, were able to get out to an early lead. They led 10-8 early despite shooting just 2-of-9 from the field, noticeably spooked by the presence of Rudy Gobert in the paint. After Utah took the lead on a triple by Ingles, Al-Farouq Aminu answered with one of his own – his second of the period – to tie the game at 13-13. That’s when Lillard got going. His second old-school three-point play of the quarter was a dance and jumper over the newly-acquired Jae Crowder, upping his total to 13 points on 3-of-6 from the field and 7-of-7 from the free throw line.
A 26-19 lead after the first quarter seemed somewhat safe. The Jazz struggled offensively early, and Lillard had it going. It’s not like the first half of the second quarter was a harbinger of things to come for Portland, either, which took a 42-36 lead on a 3-pointer by Shabazz Napier – his second in less than three minutes – with 3:13 on the game clock. But Utah had begun to come alive offensively, owning the offensive glass and getting good looks from deep, and any momentum Lillard had created was squashed by spending the first seven minutes of the second quarter on the bench.
By the time halftime arrived, the Blazers’ lead was just 44-43. It would be pretty much the last time the game seemed winnable for Portland, too.
The Jazz blitzed the Blazers in the third quarter, outscoring the home team 38-19. Even that discrepancy doesn’t accurately portray just how dominant Utah was after intermission, though. Ingles hit two 3-pointers and made fools out of the Blazers’ defenders with patient, canny pick-and-roll play. Royce O’Neale pinged the ball all over the floor, finding open shooters for jumpers and Gobert and Favors for thunderous dunks. The Jazz also extended their defense to force the ball out of Lillard’s hands, a strategy that not only led to stagnant Portland offense, but also several transition opportunities – a rarity for Quin Snyder’s club.
Utah didn’t quite make every sequence in the third quarter look this easy, but don’t tell that to any Blazers fan who had the displeasure of watching their team get picked apart on both ends of the floor.
Donovan Mitchell misses floater, gets the tip dunk on his own miss between 3 Blazers pic.twitter.com/b9DscmAP3A
— CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) February 12, 2018
Lillard, of course, refused to go away. He scored 12 consecutive points on a pair of contested threes and multiple tough finishes to close the third quarter, but it didn’t matter – the Jazz just kept on finding easy ways to score. Utah led 81-63 going into the final stanza, and extended that advantage to 25 points before Lillard finished another layup through traffic with seven minutes and 26 seconds remaining. McCollum finally got going from there, scoring 10 of his 22 points over the last half of the fourth quarter to help bring Portland within 12 points with just over two minutes left. Mitchell, however, made sure his team’s lead would stay insurmountable.
The rookie scored nine straight points in less than a minute and-a-half, finally ending the Blazers’ long-shot comeback hopes. He did it in every way imaginable, too, with a splashed 20-footer, and-1 layup through the teeth of the defense and this filthy step-back 3-pointer.
Donovan Mitchell 🔥 🔥 pic.twitter.com/r3GgLdHPz6
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 12, 2018
Don’t be fooled by Utah’s record, now an even 28-28. The Jazz entered Sunday’s game with a better net rating than Portland, and have won more lopsided games than any team in the league – including the Golden State Warriors, who they beat by a whopping 30 points in late January. Utah is really good.
But this was a thorough dismantling on both ends of the floor, one normally reserved for league bottom-feeders. That’s not the Blazers, obviously, but it can be when an elite defense makes life difficult for Lillard and McCollum, while pinging the ball all over the floor on the other end. Not many teams would have beaten the Jazz on Sunday night, but some definitely would have been more competitive than Portland – especially at home, where the Blazers hadn’t lost in their last nine games.
The Jazz shot 13-of-26 from beyond the arc, pulled down 16 offensive rebounds and got out to 16 fast-break points. They forced Portland into 40.7 percent shooting, and only nine 3-pointers and 13 assists. Utah dominated, plain and simple.
What does that mean for Portland’s playoff chances? Not much. It’s no secret that the Blazers would struggle to beat one of the West’s best teams in an opening-round series. Based on Sunday, though, Portland should be glad that Utah – by the standings, at least – isn’t one of them.