Portland, Ore. • It would be easy to say the Jazz were simply the latest innocent bystanders to be victimized by Damian Lillard’s Scorched Earth World Tour.
Thing is, “bystanders” is too apt a word for their effort Saturday night at the Moda Center to ultimately put their destruction all on him.
Yes, the incendiary point guard’s 51-point, 12-assist flamethrower of a game was an inescapable, unoverlookable factor in the Blazers’ 124-107 win. But Utah’s fourth straight defeat also was yet another inexplicably lethargic, flat-footed affair against yet another opponent playing on the second night of a back-to-back.
“Things are just too easy right now. It’s a complete 180 from the team we were about a week ago,” said Donovan Mitchell. “So, we have to have a good practice, come in, lock in, and fix that. Otherwise, it’s going to be a [expletive] All-Star break.”
The team’s leaky-of-late perimeter defense absolutely hemorrhaged easy looks, enabling Portland to shoot 51.1% from the field and 15 of 29 from beyond the arc for the game. Lillard, meanwhile, became the first player in NBA history to make at least six 3-pointers in at least six consecutive games (he went 9 of 15 there).
To add insult to injury, though, All-Star center Rudy Gobert had a bizarrely passive night and was pretty thoroughly outhustled and outplayed by Blazers counterpart Hassan Whiteside, who notched 17 points, 21 rebounds (six offensive), and three blocks.
“We just didn’t execute the things that we were wanting to do,” said coach Quin Snyder. “There were times when we did, and they still may score at some point, but our execution defensively has to be better. It has been, I think it will be.”
This game, however, provided little in the way of optimism.
Things started promisingly enough, with Mike Conley’s return to the starting lineup juicing a 34-21 lead, as the point guard dropped in 11 first-quarter points in just under nine minutes of play. Portland, however, closed the period on a 12-0 run.
That would become a theme throughout, as the Blazers reeled off a 15-0 spurt right before halftime to turn a five-point deficit into a 10-point lead at the break. A 13-0 blitz in the third enabled the Blazers to start stretching their advantage.
Snyder mostly blamed those stretches — and Portland dropping at least 30 points in each quarter — on poor defensive execution, but noted that Utah’s own dry spells getting the ball in the basket (converting just 42.6% from the field overall, and making only 7 of 21 shots at the rim and in the paint) compounded the problem.
Then, of course, there was Lillard decimating their soft hedges and mental miscues at every turn, en route to double-digit scoring totals in all four periods.
“When you play a player like that, you have to bring the level up. And if he scores, he scores, but tonight when he scored and he had assists, he was able to do what he wanted,” Snyder said. “I believe we’re better, and we’ve got to demonstrate it.”
Mitchell led the Jazz with 25 points on 11-for-21 shooting, while Bojan Bogdanovic nailed 5 of 9 beyond the arc for 22 points. Conley scored 19 of his 22 before the break. Gobert finished with six points (on 1-of-4 shooting), 11 rebounds, and three blocks.
Nevertheless, in the aftermath, Mitchell reiterated, “Offense isn’t the problem.
“Talking, communicating — we’re not doing it together,” he added. “It’s nothing selfish, it’s nothing like that. It happens. The great teams, the team we’re trying to be, it happens [for] one game, it doesn’t happen four straight. That’s the biggest thing.”