HOW ‘BOUT THIS JAZZ (GAME 51)
AT PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS (1/25/2023)
The Jazz had just played three straight in Salt Lake and would soon have a 5 game homestand to begin February, but before that could happen, they had to pack up and head to Rip City for a clash with Damian Lillard and the slumping Blazers. Portland, like Utah, has a solid passionate fanbase who will typically pack the Moda Center and show up in droves even amidst the porous play by their favorite team as of late. The fans in Oregon were awarded for their efforts by another guard having a career night against the Jazz, as the Trailblazers waltzed to a 134-124 win to send Utah back below the depths of .500. That guard was of course former Weber State superstar, Damian Lillard. For a guy who once rapped about wanting to play for Jerry Sloan, he sure didn’t hold anything back against Utah. Jazz fans knew who Dame was and what he was capable off, but in recent years the Jazz had held him to 23 points, 11 points and most recently this year, 13 points. He had a 30 plus game mixed in here and there but I don’t think the Jazz were anticipating a 60 point performance on an insanely efficient 21/29 shooting. To have someone score 60 is bad, like when Kobe Bryant dropped 60 on Utah to end his NBA career. But the Black mamba attempted 50 shots In that game, Lillard put up 29 attempts. To allow 60 is simple greatness from an opposing player, to allow 60 on 29 shots is simple greatness and atrocious defense. We knew the backcourt matchup of Conley and Clarkson would prove pivotal against Lillard but it quickly shifted from “can the Jazz contain Damian” to “Can we keep Damian from breaking George Gervin’s record of most points scored against the Jazz in a single game?” The Jazz were able to keep Dame Time from breaking that particular mishap that happened during the team’s tenure in New Orleans if you are looking for small consolation prizes. But he is now tied with Kobe Bryant for most points scored against the Utah iteration of the team. For Lillard he was 2 points shy of breaking a career high. He has had 61 twice both in 2020.
The Utah Jazz scored 27 points in the Third quarter. Damian Lillard scored 24. According to Blazers Edge not only did he command an 11-0 run, but was also responsible for 20 consecutive Trailblazer points. From there he and Portland had all the confidence they needed. When players like Josh Hart and Jusuf Nurkic went to locker room with injuries, the other players thrived off of Lillard’s energy. Anfernee Simons had 16, Jerami Grant had 19, but the biggest surprise for the Jazz was likely the Blazer bench. Portland statistically has the worst second unit when it comes to scoring in the association, yet had 29 points, about 5 more than their season average. For example sakes, Drew Eubanks had 8 points, which was more than he had scored since January 2nd. It wasn’t much but if Portland’s bench doesn’t play slightly better than per usual, the Blazers may not be celebrating Dame’s 60 burger with a win.
Utah’s offense was just fine for the night. In fact, you would have to go back to December 19th to find the last time the Jazz failed to eclipse the 100 point mark. They have put up 120 plus points in 4 of the last 5 games. The Jazz actually have the most points scored on the year out of all NBA teams at 6,002 in 51 games. The offense abilities ranging from the starters to the bench is impressive and top 5 in the association in many categories. This was shown in Rip City during the loss with Lauri Markkanen once again getting 20 plus at 24. Collin Sexton had 19, Jordan Clarkson 18, and Vanderbilt, Horton-Tucker, Beasley and Gay were all in double figure scoring. Mike Conley, Walker Kessler and Ochai Agbaji were the only Jazzmen to get 10 or more
minutes that did not score 10 points or more, which shows the ball movement, distribution and team aspect of the offense. Their 32 assists were the third most in a game this year to prove it. On top of all that their 20 made Three’s tied for a season high, while the accompanying 48.8 percent shooting percentage from deep is 2nd best on the season so far. So yeah, the offense was humming along as well as it could.
This loss is squarely on the defensive side of the ball and the defense alone. The issue is, this is not football, you cannot blame an entirely different group of players for their poor attempts to defend. The same guys lifting and bolstering your offensive stats, are also responsible for your shoddy defensive shortcomings. Coach Billups played a solid game with his small ball rotations after the Nurkic injury which limited Walker Kessler’s minutes and impact which certainly doesn’t help. No one expected the Jazz to be a defensive juggernaut after sending away Rudy Gobert, but if you want a specific thing to pin losses on, all fingers point to an inability to defend at a high clip.
Rudy Gay has occupied this spot far too may times this season, but I have to give credit where credit is due, he was solid against Portland. He literally could not miss on 4 of 4 shooting while hitting three of those from deep. He also recorded a block, 2 assist and a couple rebounds. Mike Conley struggled to score, but he only attempted 6 shots so we can’t be too harsh as he did have a 10 assist performance. So, for as much good as Ochai Agbaji has done the past couple games, he gets the Tank Commander award for the night. Agbaji only played a couple seconds less than 12 minutes, but typically he has done a lot with the time he has been given. Against Portland he took one shot and missed that one shot. He did to his credit grab two rebounds and notch two assists which matters if your shot is not falling or you refuse to shoot. The issues are not with his play per say, he did what he could in the minutes he had, but as a near 38 percent three-point shooter with an ability to finish strong, he could have absorbed a couple more looks. No other player with 10 or more minutes attempted less than 4 shots. He could have taken three more without being accused of selfishness. Jordan Clarkson gets a nod here as well, as despite his 18 points, he had moments were the ball stuck in his hands far too long. Those 18 points were also on 18 attempts which is not an ideal stat. Clarkson was posting career highs in assist not too long ago and the Jazz were all the better for it, the isolation style play is fun for a while but JC has to make sure he doesn’t rediscover old habits as he had more turnovers (4) than he did Assists (3).
THREE KEY NUMBERS:
During Damian Lillard’s barrage of buckets VS Utah the other night, the Utah Jazz broadcast team put out a fun chart displaying what players have the best performance against the Jazz. Michael Jordan was at the top with 32.7, Lebron James and Allen Iverson filled in the next spots at 28.2 and 27.8. Damian Lillard sat at number four with 26.6 points per game when he faces off
against Utah. This number says a lot, because he has had some clunkers when playing the Jazz, but more often than not Lillard is fantastic against the pro basketball team from his collegiate state.
Speaking of Jordan Clarkson and his assist rate dipping, a fan took to Twitter to lay out the proof. Calvin Gross noted that In October, Clarkson was putting up 16.5 Points with 5.3 Assists which was an all-time high for the guard. December rolled around and his scoring jumped up, and the assist rate dipped a little bit at 21.1 PPG and 4.8 Assists. Now here in the first month of the new year, Clarkson has upped his scoring by about another point at 23.2, but watched his assist numbers drop a bit over a full assist with 3.6 a game. JC has proven to be a very effective, if not very fun passer. If he can find the balance in his scoring and helping others score it will help limit his turnovers and everyone can be happy, at least offensively.
The 47 points Utah gave away in the 2nd quarter were the most the Jazz have allowed as a franchise in a quarter since 2017. According to Tyson Ewing, it is the third most they’ve allowed in franchise history, or at least tied for it. The fact the Jazz had an opportunity in this game was a head scratcher in its own right and a testament to Utah’s own offensive firepower as well as a fact that the defense stinks.
OPPOSING FAN COMMENT OF THE NIGHT:
“Jazz uniforms are clean.” -philocity
The Jazz were rocking their white association jerseys with the highlighter yellow trim and the J-note next to the number. I have no clue if this was sarcasm or if we found the first ever opposing fan who liked the one of the new Jazz jerseys. Maybe it was a remark on the detergent the equipment manager uses?