After a lackluster defensive effort in the first half, the Jazz’s bench unit ratcheted up the intensity on both ends in the fourth quarter against the Trail Blazers on Sunday, rallying for a 123-112 victory at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore., to bolster their preseason record to 4-0.
Donovan Mitchell scored a team-high 21 points for Utah, which outscored Portland 39-20 over the final 12 minutes of action.
Joe Ingles and Alec Burks added 12 each for the Jazz.
The end result was a bit deceiving, considering that fourth quarter featured a Jazz lineup of Ekpe Udoh, Royce O’Neale, Grayson Allen, Georges Niang and Burks feasting on the likes of Caleb Swanigan, Meyers Leonard, Nik Stauskas, Anfernee Simons and Wade Baldwin IV.
Indeed, it was a 19-0 run by that Utah unit that ultimately completed the comeback.
“That lineup we had in late, those guys played really hard,” coach Quin Snyder said. “That’s the way we need to play.”
Before that, though …
The Jazz’s earlier lineups struggled mightily against the Blazers, especially on the defensive end.
While Portland was sloppy with the ball all night, finishing the game with 26 turnovers, the shooting was effective enough that it didn’t really matter early.
The Blazers shot 57.1 percent from the field in first half overall en route to a 61-50 halftime lead. And while going 9 for 19 on 3-pointers (47.4%) was impressive, the 65 percent they shot on their 23 two-point attempts illustrated better still the easy looks Utah’s defenders were allowing.
“We weren’t together. We weren’t connected,” Mitchell said. “… We were a little too afraid of the contact rules and tried to play around it. We need to continue to be physical.”
Former Weber State star and All-NBA First Team honoree Damian Lillard was cooking for 25 minutes, hitting 9 of 11 overall (including 4 of 5 on 3-pointers) to finish with a game-high 23 points, to go along with seven assists and four rebounds. The Blazers were plus-22 with him on the court.
His backcourt mate, CJ McCollum, added 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting, as well as four assists. Portland was plus-18 scoring in his 26 minutes.
Portland finished the game shooting 51.9 percent overall.
“We can do a lot better,” acknowledged Rudy Gobert. “It’s a very good offensive team, and they played very well tonight. We need to be more physical individually and more vocal collectively. It was good for us to play this kind of game.”
Snyder was more blunt and more critical, still, of the defensive effort.
"I didn’t think we played well. I thought we didn’t play good defense,” he said. “A lot of it was not being focused, or breakdowns, and I didn’t think we had the level of intensity that we needed on the defensive end.”
Those looking for a silver lining can be encouraged by the efficiency of Utah’s reserves, at least.
After the Jazz shot just 39.6 percent from the field in the first half, on account of settling for far too many awkward midrange attempts, they bumped that all the way to 47.1 percent by the time the game was over, as Utah racked up 73 points in the second half.
Utah was also 18 for 36 on its 3-point attempts for the game, and 23 for 27 (85.2 percent) on free throws.
The Jazz wrap up their preseason schedule this Thursday in Sacramento against the Kings and the second overall pick in the 2018 draft, Marvin Bagley.
Jazz 123, Trail Blazers 112
• Utah’s bench players outscore Portland’s 39-20 in the fourth quarter to complete the comeback, as the team improves to 4-0 in the preseason.
• The Blazers’ starting backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combines for 44 points in 51 minutes on 17-for-24 shooting.
• Portland scores 33 points in the first quarter and 61 in the first half, while the Jazz improve their own offensive efficiency to the tune of 73 points after halftime.