Defense Wins Jazz Ninth Straight in 115 – 96 Win in Portland

February 11th, 2018 | by Clint Johnson

Damian Lillards 39 points failed to slow down Donovan Mitchell and the Jazz, who won their ninth straight game this season. [AP Photo/FoxNews]

Story of the Game

Entering tonight, the Utah Jazz had won eight straight games, the longest win streak in the NBA. Simultaneously, the Portland Trail Blazers had won nine straight home games. Something had to give. 

It was Portland’s streak that fell. Utah’s defense crushed it.

While the Blazers jumped out to an 11 point lead in the first quarter, Utah’s defense slowly squeezed Portland’s offense off kilter, allowing the Jazz to get back in the game. But in the first half, the Blazers got enough offensive punch from strange quarters – seven made free throws by Damian Lillard in the first quarter alone, an eight-point Al-farouq Aminu first quarter then an eight-point Shabazz Napier second quarter – to keep a 44-43 lead at half.

For much of this season, the Jazz defense has been compromised by a missing Rudy Gobert, who missed not one but two stretches of the season with injuries. But in the third quarter tonight the Jazz showed a defensive gear that perhaps only they have, a gear that has made them uniquely feared the past two seasons: a defense that can not only win a game but dominant it.

With Gobert and Derrick Favors smothering the paint, perimeter defenders fighting through and over screens, and help defenders routinely rotating two, and three, and four passes without giving good shots, Portland’s potent offense collapsed. They shot 27 percent in the quarter, with all but one make coming from Damian Lillard (39 points), who summoned super-human scoring ability to escape frequent double teams and finish the quarter shooting five of 10. Players without Lillard’s supreme talent did more than struggle. Utah erased them. They shot one of 12. By the end of the period, the Jazz had doubled up the shocked Blazers 38 to 19.

From the start of the second quarter to the 8:35 mark in the fourth, Utah achieved a defensive rating of 77 points allowed per 100 possessions. That is world crushing defense extended over more than half an NBA game. What Golden State or Houston do offensively to teams, that’s what Utah did to Portland only on the defensive end.  

The offensive brilliance of Lillard and CJ McCollum, who was effectively checked until late in the game, provided a pretense of drama late as the two combined for 24 fourth-quarter points, a number of which were insanely difficult. But they never got the lead within 10 and the Jazz won going away, emphatically ending the Blazers’s nine-game home winning streak.

Right now, no one wants to play this Jazz team. 

Stars of the Game

Superstar: Joe Ingles (24 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, six threes)

Ingles has become a far better player than anyone ever believed possible, likely even himself. Not only did he post a career scoring night for the second time in as many games, setting his new mark of 24 points on only 12 shots, but for much of the game he served as the Jazz point guard in the half court offense in the absence of Ricky Rubio. Ingles has become a stunningly complete player: fourth in the league in three point shooting, a fantastic passer with a sky-high basketball IQ, a solid rebounder, and one of the better defenders on Utah’s defensively dominant roster. His recent contract that many reasonably identified as overly generous now looks worth every penny.

Secondary Stars: Donovan Mitchell (27 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 2 threes) and Jae Crowder (15 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 3 threes)

Tonight was another example of Mitchell’s value even when his offensive efficiency isn’t there. It took the rookie 24 shots to earn his 27 points, through he did hit two of five threes and all five free throws, which helped. Yet even on a night where his shot wasn’t falling he showed the cold blooded killer instinct of an ultra-competitor, scoring 10 points in the fourth on perfect shooting, three of three from both the field and the line and canning his only three. Only six players in the league are scoring more in the fourth quarter than the 21-year-old, who is already an elite scoring closer. Plus he did this:

It took Jae Crowder one game in Utah to match his best performances this season in Cleveland. The newest Jazz man looked as comfortable as if he’d started the year with the team. Of particular interest are his three made threes on seven attempts and 29 minutes played, including anchoring the team throughout the bulk of the closing minutes of the game. While he did look a little slow laterally when beaten off the dribble a few times, expect that to be cleaned up under the watchful eye of Quin Snyder. What’s more exciting were Crowder’s two passes to Gobert in the deep post, a pass the Jazz are terrible at seeing much less executing. With Gobert and Favors on the roster, if Utah can get more of those deep post entry passes it will give the Jazz offense a lethal new component – and the guy who has shown more aptitude for the pass than any other player has been with the team one game. Great start! 

Secret Star: Royce O’Neale (4 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, 1 block)

O’Neale’s emergence continued in the first start of his NBA career, where he managed to exert a huge influence on the game despite only taking five shots. Remarkably, O’Neale led the team in assists while tying for the team-lead in rebounds and steals. His shooting was really the only question mark about his skills entering the season, and he did miss his only two three point shots today, but that didn’t stop him from leading the team with a dominant plus-28 on the night. The 24-year-old rookie appears both capable and content to make his mark any way his team needs, regardless of how many shots that entails.

Stats of the Game

14/13/12 – Jazz advantage in points in the paint/second chance points/and fast break points. They thoroughly outplayed Portland in nearly every way tonight.

61 – Points scored by Lillard and McCollum (22) on 47 combined shots and 19 combined free throws. 

3 – Jazz players with 11 rebounds: Favors, Gobert, and O’Neale.

91 percent – Utah’s accuracy in making 2o of 22 free throws.

93.2 – Ingles’s true shooting percentage, which is ridiculous even in a video game.

Sundries

  • The nineteen-point final margin doesn’t accurately illustrate how dominant the Jazz were tonight. Portland spent much of the fourth quarter playing frenetic sell-out defense and then relying on Lillard and McCollum to create offense, often in terribly difficult fashion. Some calls by the refs late helped them, and still they lost at home by 19. The two best units in this game were: 1) Utah’s defense, and 2) Utah’s offense.
  • The Jazz defense was awesome throughout this game. Even in the first half when Portland managed to maintain a lead, they did so with a series of unlikely scoring bursts by unlikely players. Also, they hit a number of shots at the very end of the shot clock after excellent Utah defense. That survival on the margins couldn’t last, and when it ended, every effort by Lillard and McCollum hardly made a dent.
  • Utah rampaged to an amazing 24-5 run to start the third quarter.
  • Portland’s defense was actually good for much of the night. They really packed the paint and induced the Jazz to turn the ball over early. When Utah started hitting threes when Portland couldn’t score, however, much of the fight was pummeled out of them.
  • Ed Davis sets whopping-huge illegal screens. Not only does he hunch back into the defender as they try to curl around him, but he often pops an elbow into their chest for good measure, hooking them for a moment. Using these illegal screens helped Portland’s offense until a few fouls were called, and without that advantage the Blazers had little offensive recourse but give the ball to Lillard and ask for a miracle each time down the floor.
  • It’s worth noting Utah dominated the hottest home team in the NBA without Ricky Rubio, who was out with a sore hip, during Rubio’s hottest stretch of his season. He’d been averaging 20.7 points and 7.7 assists in the win streak prior to leaving the Hornets game. The Jazz thumped Portland without him.
  • Crowder played nine and a half minutes in the fourth quarter to close out the game. He already has Snyder’s trust.

The Jazz stand at 28-28, a record that was unthinkable a few weeks ago. They’re the hottest team in the league and during that stretch have the third highest offensive rating in the league (113.5) and the second best defensive rating (97.1). Right now, this team is a great, big, beautiful buzzsaw of awesome. They’re on such a run my guess is they’re glad to have San Antonio at home tomorrow.  Even the Spurs should have a tough time stopping the industrial-grade tail thumpings currently being handed out by the Jazz on their stampede to the playoffs.

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.
Clint Johnson

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5 Comments

  1. John Jenkins says:

    Interesting note on the Jazz defense. The Portland centers scored zero points. Rudy and Derrick, who have seemed to have figured it out, shut out the paint.Bye the way Clint this is an excellent article and fine analysis. Thanks.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      Nurkic wasn’t right and left the game of course, which helped. But your point is still completely valid. Gobert and Favors DOMINATED that matchup of bigs. It’s the type of performance that I’ve always thought was realistic and why I hold on hoping they commit to a two-big formula.

  2. Spencer says:

    I’ve been watching the Jazz since 1984. Not since 1998 about, have the Jazz demoralized opponents like this on a regular basis.

    PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE keep Favors. Get up to 6th in the playoff race and we win the first round and scare whomever we play next.

    • Clint Johnson says:

      I see the multiple reasons why the Jazz may choose to move away from Favors. But if I had the ear of the powers that be in the organization, I would strongly recommend making the Gobert/Favors pairing work, really investing in doing so. Because I don’t believe the best path to a championship is following another team’s (Golden State’s) formula but rather inventing a new formula. At their best, Gobert and Favors would give Utah a truly unique advantage against every single opponent in the league, which is what champions need.

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