Post-Break Jazz Cold in 81 – 100 Portland Loss

February 23rd, 2018 | by Clint Johnson

Despite four blocks in the game, Rudy Gobert and the Jazz’s defense couldn’t stop CJ McCollum (3) and Damian Lillard, who combined for 50 points as they cost Utah its 12th straight win. (The Canadian Press)

Story of the Game

The Utah Jazz entered the All-Star break as the hottest team in the NBA and with a mentality of a hunter honing in on a seemingly certain post-season birth. Eight days off did more than cool that fervor a bit. It sent the team’s offense into the deep freeze in their first game back, a lackluster 81 to 100 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Utah’s home court.

The first quarter looked like the opening act of a barn burner. Each team shot the ball awesomely, Utah making an amazing 69-percent from the field while Portland managed 53 percent. Each team nailed a blistering 57-percent from three. Five Jazz turnovers and seven made Blazer free throws were enough for the visitor to carry a 31 to 30 lead out of the quarter, but the home team’s confidence was humming as high as their shooting stroke.

Then that stroke broke down along with the rest of the Jazz offense. Blazer head coach Terry Stotts dropped his centers deep into the paint, taking away both drives and rolls to the hoop from Utah’s pick and rolls. Utah’s point guards Ricky Rubio and Donovan Mitchell struggled mightily to make Portland pay as they were invited into the mid range of the Blazer’s collapsing defense, combining for a measly three assists.

With Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum (who combined for 50 points tonight), the Blazers are known as an offensive team for good reason, but it was their defense that won this game. In the final three quarters of play, Utah managed only 17 points in each period, the result of an anorexic offensive rating of 70.8 points per 100 possessions, more than 30 points per 100 worse than the NBA’s worst offense this season, the Sacramento Kings.

Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors struggled in particular. Rubio hadn’t played in more than two weeks due to a hip injury and looked completely out of sorts, shooting two of six and managing only two assists. Favors was more offensively absent than bad as Utah’s motion- and pass-heavy offense spluttered, giving him very few opportunities. During the win streak, these two players had combined for just over 30 points per game. Tonight, they managed only eight on 12 shots.

Essentially playing three on five for much of the night, it was simply too much for Utah’s bench to overcome. The Jazz cut a 19-point lead to nine in the fourth, but when their closer Donovan Mitchell missed seven of his eight attempts in the quarter, including all three three pointers, Portland won going away. Utah never led in the game.

Stars of the Game

Superstar: Rudy Gobert (15 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 4 blocks)

Utah’s defense wasn’t the problem tonight, so it isn’t surprising that Gobert was Utah’s best player. He was offensively efficient, making six of nine attempts from the field and three of four free throws in addition to his typical dominance in the paint. On a night where the Jazz starters were grossly outplayed by Portland’s starting five, Gobert provided at least some resistance, holding his team to only minus-10 in his 34 minutes, which was actually the best plus-minus among the team’s starters. 

Secondary Star: Donovan Mitchell (21 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 4 threes)

It’s tough to criticize a rookie after a 21-point performance, his fifth straight game with 20 or more, but given the standard Mitchell has set it’s only warranted. What looked for much of the night to be an efficient scoring evening leveled off significantly in the fourth quarter as Mitchell missed seven of eight shots, uncharacteristic for a player who has proven himself repeatedly in crunch time. Moreover, Portland’s defensive scheme that ushered Mitchell into the mid range and then made him make decisions limited his productivity. Terry Stotts bet against Mitchell’s ability to hurt the Blazers with the pass, and the rookie’s lone assist proved it to be a good bet. The scoring is nice, but Mitchell is capable of better and the team needs from him than just scoring.

Secret Star: Jonus Jerebko (8 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal)

Jerebko’s contribution was less his points than his energy and toughness. With pretty much every Jazz player out hustled and out muscled by their Blazer counterpart, Jerebko met or exceeded his counterpart’s force all night. He grabbed several extremely physical rebounds and kept several plays alive with his effort, the type of play the Jazz needed from more players tonight.  

Stats of the Game

0 percent – Three point shooting by Utah’s bench, which missed all nine of their three point shots. The starers managed to make six of 16 (38 percent).

12 – Utah’s disadvantage in points off of turnovers, and area they’ve thrived on all season.

68 – Points per 100 possessions allowed by the Blazers with Nurkic on the court. That’s impenetrable defense. 

19 – Jazz turnovers. They managed only 15 assists. 

6 – Steals by Moe Harkless alone, four of which came in the first quarter.


  • In the 11-game win streak Utah’s starters were awesome, averaging nearly 82 points between them. Tonight that dipped to 56 and every Blazer starter posted a plus-minus of plus-15 or better. Simply put, that unit got whooped.  
  • When the Jazz ended Portland’s home court win streak before the All-Star break, it was a Blazer team without a healthy and engaged Jusuf Nurkic, who made little impact before leaving the game in the third quarter and not returning. Nurkic made a huge impact tonight. Much greater than his 15-points or seven rebounds were his three blocked shots and constant clogging of the paint. Portland’s defense was predicated upon dropping Nurkic down as deep into the paint as possible to cut off drives to the hoop or rolls to the rim by Gobert, which forced Jazz guards to either score or distribute while in the interior of Portland’s swarming defense without being able to make it all the way to the hoop. Their struggles in that area, particularly the turnovers, likely decided the game.
  • Before tonight, the Jazz had yet to miss Rodney Hood’s scoring off the bench. They did tonight. Royce O’Neale’s recent brilliance didn’t survive the break and Alec Burks continued to make much less impact than would have been expected given his strong start to the season. They combined for six points on 12 shots, which is the type of grossly inefficient scoring that too often afflicted Hood, allowing the Jazz to cut ties with him with minimal pain. The team needs more scoring from the second unit guard line, especially on a night where Rubio struggles so much.
  • On the bright side, the Jazz once again flashed glimmers of a broadening offense. Gobert started the game with another dribble drive to the hoop for a slam off a Rubio pick. Later on, the ball reversed sides of the court and hit Jerebko in the corner at which point he rapidly shot the ball to Gobert under the hoop with a smaller defender sealed behind him, forcing a foul. While Utah’s offense was out of sync tonight, there are still exciting signs of broadening capabilities.
  • Jae Crowder scored 11 and has now reached double figures in scoring in all four of his games with the Jazz. He didn’t score in double digits in four straight games all season in Cleveland.

Utah’s win streak is over and the end came in a sudden and ugly fashion, not what the team was anticipating to open their stretch run of the season. Even so, there’s no reason to panic. Rubio was clearly out of sorts and Favors simply uninvolved offensively, and the Blazers played extremely well and hard defensively, likely driven by some embarrassment about how the Jazz manhandled them in their home gym a few weeks ago. The team will play better, hopefully starting tomorrow at home against the Mavericks. 

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.

One Comment

  1. Paul Johnson says:

    It’s kind of hard for me to hate on Damian Lillard. He’s such a great young man, with Utah ties, and is such a stud on the basketball court–without the arrogance of some of the other young NBA stars (for example, GSW players). When the Jazz plays Portland, I just always hope the Jazz play better, because I know Lillard and McCollum are going to combine for at least 50 points, if not more. The Jazz just didn’t have any “juice” tonight.

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