PORTLAND – If it feels like it’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these live blogs, that’s because it has been. My last trip to the Rose Garden was the Blazers’ Dec. 30 win over Boston, making it a little over a month. For some people, that might not seem like much, but keep in mind I attended all but one Sonics home game during my six years with the organization. The last time I went this long during the season without attending a game was 1995. Thanks again to David Stern.
The Blazers face off with Utah tonight in a matchup of Northwest Division rivals. The Jazz is coming off of a blowout of Oklahoma City last night while fighting through injuries that have left the team without Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko. You’ll find no bigger Paul Millsap fan than I, but that is brutal in terms of depth and has left Utah giving regular minutes to young centers Kyrylo Fesenko and Kosta Koufos.
Though it’s probably too early in the season to look at these numbers, a win tonight would give the Blazers a four-game edge on the Jazz in the standings. Conversely, a loss would leave the teams separated by two games and give Utah the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Portland 33, Utah 26 (end first quarter): The Blazers lived by the three in the first quarter, knocking down five of their eight attempts from beyond the arc to power an offense that put up 33 points in the first quarter in just 22 possessions–an Offensive Rating of a cool 150. Rookie Nicolas Batum kicked things off with a pair of early threes that helped Portland take a quick lead. The Blazers got 15 points from Batum and Sergio Rodriguez, production that has to be considered a bonus.
Portland 52, Utah 47 (halftime): This game looked like it had serious blowout potential early in the second quarter when Portland went up 14, especially with the Jazz on the back end of a back-to-back. This is Utah, however, and the Jazz kept up the effort while finding some offense in the form of Deron Williams. Williams took control of the game in the second quarter, scoring 14 of his 18 points. The Blazers have yet to find an answer for the screen-and-roll with Williams with either Jerryd Bayless or Sergio Rodriguez at the point.
Utah took away the three-pointer in the second quarter and Portland had a much more difficult time scoring the ball, with Brandon Roy as their only consistent option. The Blazers need to get LaMarcus Aldridge (1-of-7 from the field) into a rhythm.
Portland 90, Utah 73 (end third quarter): Well, so much for the Blazers’ offense stagnating. All they did was throw up 38 points in the third quarter, shooting 15-of-24 (62.5 percent) from the field and adding three more three-pointers. Aldridge did indeed get going, Brandon Roy kept up his terrific play and Nicolas Batum is 4-of-5 from three-point range and has 16 points, one shy of his career high.
This definitely looks like a second game of a back-to-back for the Jazz, who are slow in their rotations, particularly in defensive transition. Portland has been able to outhustle Utah, and that generally spells doom for the Jazz. Do give credit to the Blazers for excellent ball movement–23 assists on 32 field goals is very strong for a team that gets a lot of second-chance scores.
Also, no one will ever top Gary Payton-to-Shawn Kemp as an alley-oop combination in my mind, but Sergio Rodriguez-to-Rudy Fernandez is awful impressive. I don’t know if I’ve ever before seen a buzzer-beating alley-oop like Rodriguez and Fernandez pulled off at the end of the third quarter.
Portland 122, Utah 108 (final): Apologies for not completing the blog in real time, as other duties called. Alas, the only drama of the fourth quarter was which Blazer would push the team to 100 points and guarantee fans chalupas. My favorite part: The crowd sighing when Travis Outlaw missed a free throw with Portland sitting on 99 and eight minutes left in the game. Did they really think Utah was going to shut the Blazers out for two-thirds of a quarter?
This was the Blazers offense at its best–the usual threes and offensive rebounding to go along with rapid ball movement and well-timed early offense. The Jazz’s fatigue helped, certainly, but credit Portland for doing what needed to be done.