Nearly all game the Blazers seemed in danger of giving this one away. They coughed up 19 turnovers. They finished a paltry 15-32 from the free throw line. They gave up 16 offensive rebounds. Those are the exact sort of miscues you’d expect from a younger team, and normally they would spell doom against one of the premier defenses in the league. Indeed, despite shooting the lights out from everywhere but the charity stripe, the Blazers let the Utah Jazz keep this one close.
With six minutes left in the fourth, the Jazz ripped off a quick 7-0 run in 45 seconds to cut Portland’s lead in half. The home crowd awoke from a game-long slumber, Utah ratcheted up the defensive intensity, and the Blazers looked shook. If Portland was going to give this one away, Utah was ready to make its move.
But damn, Damian Lillard. And damn, CJ McCollum. Better offense beats better defense, and those two were nothing but better offense. They finished a combined 24-40 from the field for 62 points, with nearly half of those coming as the offense was completely stalled out. Bucket after bucket, those dudes were unstoppable and unguardable and human fire emojis down the stretch. The Jazz just didn’t have an answer.
So yeah, the game ball goes to that two-headed monster that couldn’t miss. Their ability to both create shots and hit said shots carried the Blazers to a 108-92 victory. But the rest of the team? What a balanced and destructive attack throughout.
Even with Meyers Leonard sitting most of this game due to an ankle sprain he suffered early, Portland found gold buried amongst its role players. I mean, 108 points on this Jazz defense? It's obviously still early but they’re giving up an average of 80 a game so far. Rudy Gobert could Dorf it up and play on his knees and still this would be an elite defense.
Al-Farouq Aminu was again his reliable self, and despite some over-dribbling and questionable fast breaks, he had the two of the biggest plays of the game. First, with the Blazers scuffling, he grabbed an offensive rebound amongst three Jazz defenders and put it back in while being knocked to the ground. He hopped back up after hitting the deck, pounded his chest, and took some well deserved shoves from his excited teammates. He later stood up Gordon Hayward forty feet from the basket, ripped the ball away as Hayward tried to make a move, and picked up a clear path foul in the process. Those were two momentum killing plays, if momentum actually existed in sports.
Moe Harkless played so well that the Magic just asked if they could fire Jacque Vaughn again for the way he handled the roster last year. How did he end up buried on the bench in Orlando, and why in the hell did they trade him away for a six-pack and some leftover pizza? He finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds, and one pickup in my fantasy basketball league.
Mason Plumlee finished with sixteen rebounds, a career-high. Yes, he only went 2-9 from the line, but he feasted on some easy looks from Dame. Those two are developing a nice chemistry on the pick and roll, and as defenses try to load up on Lillard, those rim rolls will be there. He just has to be better about finishing those chippies because the free throw line ain't working out so far.
All in all a great win, Portland’s second in a row and second on the road. Tonight will be a much tougher test as they’re up against the Memphis Grizzlies at home in a nationally televised game. Portland’s roster doesn’t look like anything like it did during last year’s playoffs, but they’ll still be looking to exercise some of those post-season demons.