PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — On a night in which they were without starting center Jusuf Nurkic, everything else went right for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Damian Lillard had 36 points and 11 assists to lead the Portland Trail Blazers to a 132-105 win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night. Lillard’s backcourt mate CJ McCollum was excellent as well, scoring 30 points in the win.
Donovan Mitchell had 22 points to lead Utah.
McCollum, only one game removed from his first career triple-double, had plenty of magic left in his bag. The Blazers guard made all nine of his shots in the first quarter and had 20 by the end of the period.
Even when he wasn’t shooting, he was still scoring. An attempted lob pass from McCollum to Blazers center Meyers Leonard went in the basket anyway.
“He’s a magician out there, so you never know,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said when asked if it looked like a pass from his angle.
In the eyes of Leonard, who finished with 16 points and six rebounds in place of the injured Nurkic, there was no doubt McCollum intended to pass. But it didn’t matter.
“It was absolutely a pass,” Leonard said. “But I guess the basketball gods knew he was playing so well that it had to go in.”
“That’s when you know you hot,” LIllard said.
McCollum didn’t miss a shot until he clanked a free-throw with 9:02 left in the second quarter and didn’t miss a field goal until later in the period. Portland put up 45 points in the first quarter and 74 in the half, which put the Jazz in a rough position.
“We just didn’t execute the way we want to defensively,” Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell said of his team’s performance. “It’s the same team and the same schemes. I thought we should have added more pressure but obviously we didn’t come out with that pressure. That’s on us.”
Even when things went right for the Jazz, they went sour almost immediately. Perhaps nothing exemplified that like a steal and dunk by Donovan Mitchell in the second quarter that ended with the ball hitting a trailing Ricky Rubio in the face.
After the Jazz cut the Blazers lead that had once been at 27 down to 10 with 7:57 left in the third quarter, the Blazers put the game away scoring the next 17 points.
Lillard was only two rebounds shy of his first career triple-double but was pulled with about six minutes left and the game’s result already wrapped up.
“I didn’t want to chase it,” Lillard said. “Coach left me out there a little bit to see if I can go get a few rebounds and do it. After a few minutes I came to the side and was like, man just take me out. I don’t want to be out here hunting it this bad.”
With the win, the Blazers tied the season series with the Jazz at 2-2.
Jazz: Since Dec. 15, the Utah Jazz have had the best defense in the NBA and they have the second-best in the defense overall. The Jazz improvement on defense has seen them rise in the standings and head coach Quin Snyder believes there were a lot of factors that contributed to the improvement. While the NBA has jumped in pace, averaging two more possessions per game league wide, Snyder believes the pace wasn’t a determining factor in their slow start defensively.
“It was more stylistic and some of it was schedule,” Snyder said. “Some of it was the team kind of remembering on a little deeper level their identity. We had to make a couple of adjustments. Less so based on pace and more so based on certain personnel situations and how we can best utilize our players. Often times you have to see that and feel it not just as a coach but as a player. To commit to it on a deeper level you have to believe in it.”
Trail Blazers: The Blazers and Jazz played on Wednesday night for the 4th time since December 21. With all of the games against the same team in such a short period of time, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said it’s somewhat similar to a playoff setting.
“A little bit,” Stotts said when asked if it was at all like a playoff matchup. “I talked to the team during shoot around today like, we should know some of these calls when they’re going through their sets. We should know these calls by now. Granted it’s not as compact amount of time in a playoff series but there is a degree that you know that team a little bit better than you would if you played them once a month.”
Jazz: At home Friday vs. Hawks.
Trail Blazers: At home Feb. 5 vs. Heat.