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"Unfortunate Moments That Can Happen" | Utah Falls To Portland In Physical Game

Ryan Kostecka
Digital Content Writer

The NBA wasn’t kind to Utah when it scheduled Portland on Saturday night.

The Blazers entered Vivint Arena well-rested, playing their first game in four days. Meanwhile, not only were the Jazz on the tail-end of a back-to-back, they were playing their third game in four days.

Despite the odds and a red-hot night from Anfernee Simons, the Jazz proved they’re a team that will never quit. Utah fought back from a 15-point deficit to take a one-point lead with just over a minute left — but it wasn’t enough in the end.

Utah fell 116-111 to the Blazers, snapping their two-game winning streak.

“The game was lost in the first half,” head coach Will Hardy said. “I give our guys credit, they dug down in the second half. It doesn’t matter that it’s the second night of a back-to-back. … I’ll give our guys credit for responding and playing very hard in the second half.”

Trailing late in the fourth, Collin Sexton had a quick 5-0 run, followed by a Jordan Clarkson three-pointer that tied the game at 109 with just under three to play. The Jazz took a one-point lead following a Kelly Olynyk bucket and then had the ball with 35 seconds left following a Lauri Markkanen block on Simons.

But Utah turned the ball over the following three possessions, and Portland rallied with six-straight free throws to close the game.

“They really competed on both ends, but down the stretch, we didn’t make enough plays,” Hardy said of his team. “You can always look back at little things in the game. … There’s just unfortunate moments that can happen late in the game. That’s life in the NBA.”

Although there was some very physical play nearly every time he got to the rim, Clarkson finished with a team-high 24 points, adding five rebounds and three assists. He overcame a slow start to find a rhythm in the second half by finishing with 18 points.

“Should have been two,” Hardy said regarding his first-ever technical foul after arguing a non-call where Clarkson got leveled at the rim. “I should have gotten thrown out. … That play was gross. Not that I thought there was any intent. … But he could have gotten badly hurt.”

Despite the demanding schedule, it was business as usual for Markkanen.

Going up against a team full of athletic wing defenders, Markkanen was once again efficient for Utah. Using his size and strength, he bullied his way to 21 points and five rebounds, shooting 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. Most impressively, he shot a perfect 9-for-9 from the free throw line.

Entering the season, Jarred Vanderbilt was regarded as one of the better defenders in the league. With elite length and quickness, he’d proven that he could defend all five positions on the court, making him extremely valuable.

He showed that he was capable of much more on Saturday night.

Vanderbilt knocked down a career-high four three-pointers (three in the first half) en route to a season-high 16 points. He also added seven rebounds, four assists, and two steals while playing his terrific defense.

The first half was the Simons show, as the Jazz were just trying to keep up with the third-year guard. Using an array of moves inside and outside the arc, he dropped 33 points in the opening 24 minutes, almost single-handedly answering every Jazz run.

The game got off to a blistering start as neither team missed a shot, starting 8-for-8 from the floor. Trailing by five early, Utah rattled off a quick 11-4 run, punctuated by a Malik Beasley three-pointer.

But Simons was just starting, scoring 16 points the rest of the quarter as Utah trailed 40-31 after one.

Simons continued his reign of terror in the second quarter, but Sexton kept the Jazz afloat with nine points.

Utah started the quarter with a quick 4-0 run, but Portland regained control with a 7-2 run as Simons sat on the bench. Once he returned, the Blazers extended their lead to 15 on multiple occasions.

But the Jazz kept coming.

Utah kept attacking the rim, closing the half on a 6-0 run — including four free throws by Collin Sexton.

The Jazz trailed 69-60 at the break.

Whatever Hardy said at the half, it worked as Utah came out on fire. A quick 9-2 run, aided by three-pointers from Kelly Olynyk and Vanderbilt, made it a four-point game. Lauri Markkanen gave the Jazz an 81-79 lead with a personal 5-0 run, Utah’s first since the opening minutes.

It was short-lived, as the Blazers would respond with their own 5-0 run late in the third. Clarkson scored two of his 11 points in the quarter when he beat the buzzer with a layup.

The Jazz trailed 92-90 entering the final 12 minutes.

It was a back-and-forth affair in the early parts, with each team exchanging big bucket after big bucket. Every time it looked as if the Blazers would pull away, the Jazz would respond with a timely make.

Utah cut the deficit to three following a Clarkson bucket. Still, Portland responded on the other end as an offensive rebound led to a Jerami Grant three-pointer and a six-point deficit with just over four to go — and that’s where the drama began.

Olynyk added 15 points, nine rebounds, and six assists, while Sexton chipped in 19 points and three rebounds.

The Jazz now have their longest break of the season — three days — before returning home to face the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.