Welp, that was quite a game to watch. Typically, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum of the Portland Trailblazers take turns having hot shooting nights. Unfortunately for the Jazz, they decided to both enter scoring nirvana and dropped a combined 66 points from the floor. Portland came out of the gates hot, scoring 45 points in the first quarter to Utah’s 27. Jazz fought uphill the rest of the night trying to bring the game back within reach, but to no avail.
Utah showed a great deal of effort throughout the game. They put up numbers that would be acceptable on any other night. Donovan Mitchell scored 22 points on 50/33/83 shooting. Rudy was our second leading scorer with 15 points. The Jazz as a whole had a 45/32/86 shooting split. Offense, with this set of personnel, was about what you could expect. The defense, on the other hand, could not throw anything at Portland to slow them down.
With Jusuf Nurkic on the sidelines tonight, Portland was able to play “5-out” with all their players able to shoot the three ball. Their bigs can be a bit streaky from behind the arc, but they were hitting those threes tonight, which in turn opened the interior of our defense for Lillard and McCollum to carve up.
While Utah’s defense could not slow Portland down, it wasn’t for lack of execution. There were countless contested shots that simply went in. It is insanely difficult to deal with a team that goes supernova. Portland as a team shot 50% from three. Aside from responding with a hyper-efficient offensive explosion of their own, there was not much Utah could have done differently to win this one.
If that is the case, and this was essentially an unwinnable game for Utah, what can we take away from this? First, as we all know, the Jazz need to improve somehow if we are expecting to compete with top tier teams in Golden State, Denver and Portland. The Jazz are good enough to win one or two games against each of those teams and give them a tough series. I am not confident, however, in our ability to win a seven-game series against a contender.
As is discussed without end, the Jazz need another scorer. Donovan Mitchell is really the only player who is a constant threat to score 30 points on any given night. Defense will always be the Jazz calling card while Rudy and Donovan are leading the team, but they will need their offense to be at least top 10 in the league to compete for a title. Defending “5-out” offense is another glaring weakness for the Jazz. It seems that whenever an opposing team’s bigs are hitting threes, the Jazz have no fighting chance with their current personnel. I leave it up to Dennis Lindsey and Quin Snyder to decide what needs changing to minimize this weakness, but it seems that it is another issue that will require a change of personnel at some point.
By definition, team additions must come through trade, free agency signing, or the Draft. That means other good players will likely be moved, or sign with other teams. The key will be maintaining the level of camaraderie and chemistry in the locker room during these changes. Now that we have learned the ceiling of the current iteration of this roster, improvements must be made. It is clear that internal improvement will allow us to stay relevant from year to year, but to truly contend there will need to be a major addition to this team.
Don’t get all hot and bothered over fans that obsess over trade proposals and free agency possibilities. We all just want to make the Jazz the very best that they can be. These moves may not happen until the offseason. They may not even happen until the offseason afterward. Patience with this process will be important. Understanding the natural ebbing and flowing of the league will be important. It is okay to love and root for the individual players while also accepting the need for some adjustments. If a fan-favorite is traded away, or signs elsewhere, it will be a bittersweet moment. But change and improvement in life often mean saying “sayonara” to the comfort zone. And honestly, as much as we love this Jazz family, the only true untouchables should be the guys wearing number 45 and 27 on their backs. Yes, the same numbers that may one day hang in the arena rafters. While we fans love every individual player on this team dearly, we must remember the end goal. To bring an NBA championship, and everything that comes with it, to Utah.