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SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - DECEMBER 03: Anfernee Simons #1 of the Portland Trail Blazers drives around Jordan Clarkson #00 of the Utah Jazz during the second half of a game at Vivint Arena on December 03, 2022 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Simons Sets Tone And New Career High, Grant Closes In Win Versus Jazz

SALT LAKE CITY -- Anfernee Simons is much more outgoing than he was when he was drafted in 2018 by the Trail Blazers as a 19 year-old out of IMG Academy, and he’s matured considerably since then, both on and off the court, though the 23 year-old still isn’t much of a talker, at least by NBA locker room standards.

So when he wants to get a point across, he’d much prefer to do so with actions rather than words. So when he and a Trail Blazers squad that was down to just nine players took to the court Saturday night in Salt Lake City, he knew there was something he wanted to impart with his play.

“I just wanted to come out being aggressive, kind of set the tone, especially for my teammates and stuff,” said Simons. “I just wanted to set the tone, be as aggressive as possible early on, let them know that we in this game and I’m going to do whatever it takes for us to win this game.”

Message received.

Simons put up 23 points in the first quarter and finished with a career-high 45 points to lead the Trail Blazers to a 116-111 victory versus the Utah Jazz in front of a sellout crowd of 18,206 Saturday night at Vivint Arena.

“A great win against a really good team,” said Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups. “This is a tough environment man, that team is coached very well, they play hard, they play together. I just thought for us, Ant got going early, we just kind of rode him, rode him, rode him.”

Anfernee Simons Highlights (CAREER-HIGH 45 Points) | Portland Trail Blazers vs Utah Jazz

The Trail Blazers are now 12-11 overall and 8-6 on the road this season. With the win, Portland ends a three-game losing streak and evens the seasons series with Utah 1-1.

“We was a little upset we dropped that one in LA and the one at home against the Clippers, so this was a big time win and they had already beat us,” said Trendon Watford, who started for the second-straight game in place of Josh Hart (left ankle sprain). “So just wanted to come get our lick back.”

With Simons absolutely scorching out of the gate -- he went 12-of-18 from the field and 7-of-12 from three while playing all but three minutes of the first half -- Portland managed to build a 15-point lead. But he didn’t do it alone, as the tone Simons set was refrained by his seven teammates who saw minutes Saturday night.

“I think we was resilient throughout the game,” said Jerami Grant. “Obviously Ant had an amazing game, he kept us afloat, he kept us there the whole game. And everybody else came through. We was a little shorthanded tonight but as on most nights when we are, we’ve got enough to get the win.”

There was Justise Winslow bringing the ball up the court and initiating the offense to take some of the pressure off Simons. Jusuf Nurkic posted a double-double and made a number of key defensive plays late in the game. Watford matched his career-high in rebounds with 14 while playing 35 minutes. And Greg Brown, fresh off of a stint in the G-League, Jabari Walker and Shaedon Sharpe all made plays at key moments in the game.

“So many other contributions in this game,” said Billups. “I thought Trendon was excellent in his minutes, goes and gets 14 rebounds. Thought Nurk played really well all game, played a lot of minutes. But some of the other guys -- Jabari came up with some big rebounds, didn’t score, had some good looks but some big rebounds, Greg Brown. Happy for those guys, they played really well.”

Despite the effort of Simons and others, Utah would cut Portland’s lead to nine by the intermission and would eventually take the lead in the third quarter behind the play of Jordan Clarkson. The Blazers managed to take a two-point lead into the fourth, though that advantage was anything but safe playing at altitude versus a hardnosed team with one of the best home-court advantages in the NBA.

Trail Blazers 116, Jazz, 111 | Dec. 3 Game Highlights

To make matters worse, Simons, who had played nearly 33 of a possible 36 minutes through the first three quarters, was noticeably and understandably fatigued in the fourth. And with the memory of Utah out-kicking Portland in the fourth quarter of their previous meeting on November 19 at Moda Center still somewhat fresh in their minds, the stage seemed all but set for yet another demoralizing loss.

But just how Portland rode Simons in the first half, they looked to Jerami Grant to bring home the win in the fourth, which he has done on multiple occasions this season, especially in the absence of Damian Lillard.

“When (Simons) is having a game like that they’re going to start trapping him and doubling him, making it difficult for him,” said Grant. “So as soon as I seen him slowing down, I took over.”

The 6-9 forward out of Syracuse would post 13 of his 33 points in the fourth, scoring six-straight points for Portland late in the fourth to give the visitors a six-point advantage.

“I had it going all game, obviously (Grant) was playing well, too,” said Simons. “I was just going out, I was scoring a lot so I was pretty gassed in the second half. They was going to pay me a lot of attention, so I was just like, give the ball to Jerami and let him go. They going to not leave me no more so I was going to let him go, seal the win for us.”

While Grant shouldering the scoring load in the fourth was necessary to secure the win, the game was sealed by two defensive plays -- Nurkic forced Lauri Markkanen to lose a ball out of bounds with Portland clinging to a one-point lead with 26.5 seconds to play and Simons slapped the ball away from Clarkson as he was attempted a three with 4.6 seconds to play -- that helped keep the Jazz scoreless in the final minute.

“Obviously we’ve been in this position before a couple times where they came back and we let one slip,” said Simons. “So I think this time we were a little more prepared for the situation. Obviously things are going to happen but we kind of stuck with it, got some big stops, got some free throws and was able to seal the win.”

Next up, the Trail Blazers return to Portland to host the Pacers in the second night of a back-to-back on Sunday before having three days off. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.