Utah Jazz keep Damian Lillard in check, cruise to 120-100 opening-night victory over Portland
Donovan Mitchell wanted a fast start to the season.
The Utah Jazz delivered.
Behind a 3-point barrage and a stingy defensive effort, the Jazz cruised to a 120-100 opening night road victory against Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers.
“It’s fun when we play the way we played tonight,” All-Star center Rudy Gobert said after scoring 20 points and pulling down 17 rebounds. “… We kept moving the ball and when we do that it’s pretty tough to guard. We play in a very unselfish way. We make the right reads and we scored off our defense. I believe it’s un-guardable when we do that.”
Jazz head coach Quin Snyder’s emphasis on 3-point attempts was certainly on display, as the team attempted 50 shots from behind the arc. The Jazz connected on 19 of those attempts.
Utah finished with seven players in double figures on the night, led by 20 apiece from Mitchell and Gobert. Point guard Mike Conley had 18 points and 2 assists. Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson each had 15 points in the opening night win.
“It’s one game,” Snyder said. “We’re going to have a lot more. The biggest thing is for us to continue to carve an identity and play the same way: get the ball up the court quickly and defend.”
Damian Lillard wears the letter “O” on his jersey in homage to his hometown of Oakland, the city of Ogden, where he attended college, and the state of Oregon. But at halftime on Wednesday in Portland, the Utah Jazz had the superstar guard wearing a zero. The Jazz defense kept Lillard scoreless for a half and limited him to just nine points in all.
“Dame is an amazing player, so we have to make sure he doesn’t get anything easy,” Gobert said. “We try to make him uncomfortable. We tried to get physical with him. I think we did a great job as a team trying to make sure he was not able to get in a good rhythm.”
Jazz head coach Quin Snyder wanted more 3-pointers. He got a franchise-record 13 triples made in the first half.
The Jazz bench came to play on opening night. The second unit combined for 47 points in the victory.
• Joe Ingles’ iron-man streak was in jeopardy this week, as the Aussie wing found himself quarantining alone in a hotel this week after being told he had returned a positive COVID-19 test.
“The first thing that came to my mind was my kids and wife,” he said. “We got them tested and the whole family was negative.”
Ingles had no symptoms and had been following safety protocols.
“I literally go from the practice facility and my house,” he said. “That’s it. … Guys were texting me, ‘If you’re going to get it doing nothing, then we’re all screwed.’”
Turns out, Ingles didn’t actually have the virus. Rather, the Jazzman had returned a false-positive. He was cleared to play again, but only after testing negative multiple times.
“That screwed me for a few days of practice but I’m glad everything was OK and that my family was OK, too,” he said.
It was a frustrating scenario for Ingles, but one he expects to play out multiple times across the league this season.
“We’re all aware of the situation this year,” Ingles said. “This is probably going to happen more than once, to every team.”
• The season-opening matchup between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder was postponed Wednesday due to COVID-19 concerns. That should only reinforce how serious the issue is for players this season, coaches say.
“Everybody kind of knew that this would probably happen at some point,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “It’s disappointing it happened on opening night. But I think it makes everyone aware how real this is. … I think the reality is going to hit every other team in the league that precautions need to be adhered to.”
• NBA coaches no longer have to wear suits on the sideline. Rather than worry too much about what to wear, Jazz head coach Quin Snyder made it simple for his assistants.
“We’re going Johnny Cash. We’re wearing black on black all year,” he said. “That way no one can ever be wrong and if I spill coffee on myself before the game no one knows.”
The Jazz head back to Salt Lake City for their home-opener. The Jazz host the Minnesota Timberwolves at Vivint Arena on Saturday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. MT.