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EMPTYING THE NOGGIN — Tribute to a resilient remarkable run by the Jazz

By David Locke, Utah Jazz

Summary: Down three starters, the Jazz won their seventh straight at Vivint Smart Home Arena and defeated the Portland Trail Blazers, 106-87, holding Damian Lillard to 5 of 20 shooting.

  • What the Jazz are doing this season is truly remarkable. The injuries this team has faced should have crippled their season. It has crippled teams year in and year out, and somehow it hasn’t crippled this team. It is incredible. The Jazz are 11-2 when they have their regular starters. If they are missing one starter, they are 21-11. If they are missing two starters, their record is 14-15 and if they are missing more than three starters — as they were tonight — they are 2-3. Digest that a little more. When they are only missing one starter, this team is 32-13. That is a 60-win team. When they are missing two starters, they are still a .500 team and a possible 8-seed team.
  • This is a tribute to the depth of the team and to the veterans who have stayed professional and contribute whenever called upon. Shelvin Mack and Jeff Withey are winning games for this team.
  • This is a tribute to the depth that Dennis Lindsey built into this roster.
  • This is a tribute to Quin Snyder and his staff for the relentless work and preparation. Their ability to use these players to their maximum potential is remarkable.
  • This is a tribute to Joe Ingles who has so far exceeded what the expectations of his game were this season. He basically played point guard tonight. He has been a defensive stopper, he has played everything from 1 to 4 and he leads the NBA in 3-point shooting.
  • This is a tribute to Rudy Gobert and Gordon Hayward who have been better than any of us realize. Carrying this team night in and night out is an unbearable burden and they have answered the bell virtually every night.
  • Tonight, the Jazz jumped out early and lead 9-0, not allowing a Portland FG until the 7:25 mark of the first quarter. The Jazz led by seven points at the end of the first quarter, 24-17, then by six points at the half, holding the Blazers to 41 first half points. In the third quarter, the Blazers briefly took the lead, but the Jazz got rolling and took an 11-point lead into the fourth. Joe Johnson hit four straight 3s and the Jazz stretched the lead to 20.
  • Utah hit the 3 ball in the second half. They were 3 of 8 in the first half and 10 of 15 in the second half, which was very similar to the first meeting in Utah.
  • Dante Exum played one of the best games I have seen from him. Defensively, he gave Lillard a hard time and executed the game plan terrifically. Lillard finished 5 of 20, and even when he made shots, they were contested. Exum didn’t reach and didn’t get in foul trouble. Offensively, he played off the ball for most of the night and had a nice explosiveness to the rim. He got undercut in the third quarter and left with an injured hip.
  • If I could come up with one play that exemplified Rudy, it happened tonight. Rudy blocked a Lillard drive to the basket, as only he could. Then, when the Jazz went in transition, Ingles stepped back into a wide open 3-pointer. Instead of watching from the other side, Gobert sprinted the floor and when Ingles’ shot bounced off the rim, Rudy was there and dunked it home for two. That is incredible commitment to the game and 90% of all centers in the NBA block the shot and rest waiting for the play to come back to him.
  • Hayward had 30 and dominated the game with mid-range jumpers and then got hot in the third, which spurred the Jazz to an 11-point lead.
  • Boris had a season-high eight rebounds in addition to five assists.
  • I mentioned it earlier: Jeff Withey and Shelvin Mack are winning games for the Jazz. Withey was 5 for 5 in 12 minutes and Mack had 12 points and 5 assists in 26 invaluable minutes with Hill, Neto and Exum all hurt.
  • I hope you are enjoying this run. This team is doing amazing things.