by Alma Bean
Feature Image: Photo by Jeffery Swinger of USA TODAY Sports.
Don’t Trail Blazers Trail?
The first quarter was remarkably efficient for both teams. Utah shooting 5/9 (55.6%) from both downtown and within the perimeter. Portland on the other hand shot 6/13 (46.2%) from the perimeter and 15/27 (55.6) from the field. Portland was led by an unbelieve offensive quarter by Anfernee Simons (45/2/4) with 23 points on 8/11 (72.7%) shooting. Will Hardy started off the quarter by having Jarred Vanderbilt (16/7/4) being the primary defender. Seemed like a strange move but provided additional pressure on Simons. Unfortunately, didn’t stop Simons from scoring at will, but looked like the move caused confusion for Portland on the other end. Jusuf Nurkic (15/14/4) was the primary defender for Vanderbilt and would leave him defenseless unless he was near the basket. Vanderbilt took advantage of the space and showed Portland he is a 43 percent three-point shooter. This didn’t prove to be enough for Utah as they finished the quarter trailing 40-31.
The second quarter came with an immediate defensive presence from Walker Kessler (8 points, 8 rebounds). Within his first five minutes, Kessler was able to record two blocks. Kessler is currently averaging 1.6 blocks per game. The quarter was a continuous uphill battle for Utah. Starting the quarter down by nine points and as much as 15 points, every Utah would think they had a solution, and Portland would answer. Collin Sexton (19 points, 3 rebounds) tried to be the high-energy player for Utah by consistently driving to the basket and finding contact. So much so that near the end of the quarter, Sexton felt that Nurkic intentionally pushed him to the ground as a hostile act. After the review, the refs found a separate call, not hostile, but still resulted in Sexton shooting free throws. With Simons still continuing to make anything and everything with 33 points at the half, Portland also went into the half with the lead of 69-60.
On the Trail We Blaze
Utah’s defense came to play to start the second half. Portland struggled to shoot going 9/22 (40.9%) without making a single shot from the perimeter. Utah was able to shoot 4/10 (40%) from three-point range, including Vanderbilt who set his career high in threes with four in the game. Nearing the end of the quarter, Jordan Clarkson (24/5/3) drove to the basket to continue Utah’s momentum with an 85-84 lead. As Clarkson went in for the layup, he was met with heavy contact that leveled him in the air and landed straight on his back. No call was made and this made Hardy furious. This led to Hardy’s first technical foul of the season and swung the momentum back to Portland. With tempers flared ending the quarter, Portland went into the fourth with a 92-90 lead over Utah.
As many of Utah’s games have been this season, this game came down to free throws. Utah never saw the line in the fourth quarter and Portland shot 11/14 (78.6%) from the line. Utah even struggled from the perimeter going 3/13 (23.1%) where a majority of their shots came from during the quarter. Though Utah was able to limit Portland to 6/17 (35.3%) in the fourth, the free throws were the final nail in the coffin as Portland steals a close game 116-111.
Utah will get a four-day break before taking the court against the visiting Golden State Warriors (13-11) on Wednesday night.