Blazers Move Within One Game Of Playoffs With Win Versus Jazz

by Casey Holdahl
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SALT LAKE CITY -- One win and they’re in.

After struggling mightily in the early going, the Trail Blazers settled in and settled down to come away with a 105-98 victory versus the Utah Jazz in front of a crowd of 6,506 Wednesday night in Salt Lake City.

“I like that we kept our composure after a slow start,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We didn’t shoot the ball well, we got down early on the road and we kept our composure, kept competing, found a way to make it close in the first quarter.”

The Trail Blazers are now 41-29 overall and 22-13 on the road this season. With the win, Portland, winners of five-straight and nine of their last 10, remain in fifth in the Western Conference with two games to play. They now need just one win or a Lakers loss to secure their eighth-straight postseason bid with two games to play in the regular season.

Despite playing without both Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley, the Jazz jumped out early by making their first seven attempts, including two three-pointers, while the Trail Blazers missed their first four shots. And even after Norman Powell got Portland on the board roughly two and a half minutes into the game, the Jazz continued to dominate the action, taking a 16-4 lead with 7:25 to play in the first quarter.

But the Blazers would eventually find their footing. Portland would go on a 20-11 run to get back into the game, even with Jordan Clarkson finishing the first with a four-point play to give Utah a 31-24 advantage going into the second quarter.

“We came into the huddle, we were getting good looks, we just were missing shots,” said Damian Lillard. “I think that was encouraging for our team, just knowing that we getting good looks and the shots just aren’t falling and they’re making shots. Just from experience when we’ve had moments where we’ve come out, been on our home floor, we making three, it’s just coming to us, those are the scariest games because when you giving up good looks to the other team and they missing, it’s not really you making them miss and everything is kind of going for you, you know that you’re going to cool down at some point.”

Which is exactly what happened.

From there on, the Trail Blazers would be the better team. They got a stellar second-quarter performance from CJ McCollum, who either scored or assisted on nine of Portland’s 13 field goals. And a boost from Carmelo Anthony, who returned to action Wednesday night after missing the last two games with a sprained right ankle to put up eight points in the quarter.

With McCollum and Anthony handling the scoring, and Portland’s defense, anchored by Jusuf Nurkic, holding Utah to 35 percent shooting, the Trail Blazers outscored the Jazz by 10 to take a 59-56 lead into the intermission.

The game would tighten up for both teams in the third, with neither team shooting better than 39 percent. But with 10 points from Llllard and six three-pointers from the team, twice as many as the Jazz, the Blazers extended what was a three-point halftime lead into a 13-point advantage. And had the Jazz not finished the third by scoring the last five points, they would have gone into the fourth worse off than trailing 84-76.

Though it would only prolong the inevitable, With their defense improving seemingly by the minute, the Blazers held the Jazz in check for the duration of the fourth. Neither team managed to make many shots -- nine points total were scored between the the 8:31 and 4:19 marks of the fourth -- but with a double-digit lead and McCollum and Anthony hitting just enough to hold Utah at arm’s length, the lack of scoring suited the Blazers just fine.

The Jazz, who had lost just four times at home this season prior to Wednesday's game, would all but concede with just over two minutes to play, allowing the Trail Blazers to finish the night without intrigue with another crucial game to be played less than 24 hours later.

Lillard led the Trail Blazers with 30 points on 50 percent shooting, six assists and two rebounds in 37 minutes. McCollum went 12-of-26 for 26 points, four rebounds and four assists. Anthony went 4-of-5 from three on the way to 18 points in 26 minutes.

And while Nurkic went just 3-of-14 from the field, he was arguably Portland’s most important player Wednesday night, finishing with 11 points, 15 rebounds, six assists, four blocks and three steals in 32 minutes.

Clarkson led the Jazz with 29 points on 11-of-17 shooting. Rudy Gobert added 15 points, 20 rebounds and a block in 34 minutes.

Now the Trail Blazers head to Phoenix to face the Suns, currently second a game and a half behind the Jazz in first, with a chance to secure a spot in the 2021 Playoffs with a win in the second game of a back-to-back.

“For the last 10 games, we’ve just worried about the next game,” said Stotts. “Obviously we’re aware of where we are and where everybody else is. You need to be aware of that, but you can’t get ahead of yourself. So now we move on to Phoenix and see what happens there.”

Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.


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