A deep, desperate three-pointer late in the shot clock from Portland's Nicolas Batum slammed the door on a Utah Jazz comeback attempt as they fell 105-94 to the Blazers on Monday night in Salt Lake City.
Led by eight fourth-quarter points from Gordon Hayward and nine from Richard Jefferson, the Jazz cut the Blazer lead to 97-92 with just over a minute left in the game. But Batum heaved a 30-foot shot with one second on the shot clock that hit nothing but net. Damian Lillard followed with another three-pointer a few seconds later to ice the game.
The Jazz started the game strong, matching the Blazers shot for shot and battling to a 22-22 tie to end the first quarter. Alec Burks then took over in the second, scoring 11 points on an array of drives and free throws. But LaMarcus Aldridge was too tough for Enes Kanter and Jeremy Evans to handle inside, helping the Blazers to a 49-45 halftime edge.
With Lillard struggling, Aldridge and Wesley Matthews pushed the Blazer lead in the third quarter, as the Jazz scored just 19 points in that period. In the fourth, a lineup of Trey Burke, Hayward, Jefferson, Evans and Enes Kanter cut the Blazer lead from 15 down to 5 before Batum's dagger.
Alec Burks led the Jazz with 20 points. Kanter added 19 points with five rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block. Aldridge led the Blazers with 24 points and six rebounds.
- Alec Burks had an extremely efficient game, scoring his 20 points on 8-11 FGs with 4-4 FTs. He helped keep the Jazz close in the second quarter, and his dribble penetration opened up jumpers for Kanter and follow-up dunks for Evans. He's a real creator with the ball in his hands -- not in the traditional point-guard sense, because he still doesn't pass well (zero assists), but his energy creates offensive possibilities.
- Trey Burke was quietly effective, with 15 points, six rebounds, five assists, one steal and one block in 35 minutes. Last time he played against Damian Lillard, Trey seemingly got yanked for trying to match the Blazer star one-on-one. Tonight he stayed within himself and had arguably a more complete game than Lillard.
- Gordon Hayward fought through a poor shooting night by staying energetic and getting into the passing lanes for deflections. He ran the floor extremely well and finished one fast break with an encouragingly emphatic dunk. Some of Hayward's vision and creativity still seem AWOL -- he had zero assists tonight -- but he's finding other ways to contribute.
- Andris Biedrins and Mike Harris played 23 total minutes. Rudy Gobert played zero. I just don't understand why we're wasting minutes on expiring contracts and D-League fodder when we have a potential game-changing defender with loads of upside languishing on the bench. I'm not saying Gobert would immediately play better, but when winning doesn't really matter this year, why give minutes to players who won't be here this time next year? (By the way, Trey Burke's mom doesn't get it, either.)
- Despite Alec Burks' efficient night, he was unceremoniously yanked in the fourth quarter and didn't play the rest of the way. He scored his 20 points in just 25 minutes. And while Richard Jefferson had a decent night (13 points on 4-10 FGs) and made big plays down the stretch, it still felt a bit like Alec didn't get to swag quite as much as he could have. Tough to bench your leading scorer on the night with nine minutes left in the game.
- The Jazz were fortunate that the outside shots the Blazers hit in Portland last week didn't fall tonight. Lillard and Matthews were a combined 2-9 on three-point attempts tonight, but the Jazz didn't contest those shots much better tonight -- the Blazers just missed them. Meanwhile, Aldridge had his way with Kanter and Evans, moving from low-post pivots to turnaround jumpers with ease. Some of that can be chalked up to Derrick Favors' absence, but Utah's team defense still has a loooong way to go.
Next up: the Jazz travel to Sacramento on Wednesday for another battle with Boogie Cousins.