PORTLAND, Ore. — So, when's the winner-takes-all Game 3 of this Utah Jazz-Portland Trail Blazers miniseries?
A night after beating the Blazers at EnergySolutions Arena, the Jazz were unable to sweep this unusual home-and-away, back-to-back set against Portland.
Sparked by Weber State product Damian Lillard's 23 points and eight assists, Portland returned the favor to Utah by splitting this series with a 105-99 win over Utah on Saturday night at the Rose Garden.
The Jazz, 86-77 winners Friday against the same squad, blew a 10-point third-quarter lead, then rallied back into it after falling behind by eight and made one last valiant comeback attempt in the final minute-and-a-half before Portland finally prevailed.
"It was tough, but I don’t feel bad about it," Jazz center Al Jefferson said. "I think we played well enough to win the game, and things just didn’t work out for us."
Utah didn't have three key backcourt players — as injuries kept Mo Williams (thumb surgery), Gordon Hayward (shoulder) and Earl Watson (leg) out — while losing for the first time following two home wins since Monday's 45-point loss.
The blow of this setback, however, was cushioned by the Jazz's effort, including 23 points from Randy Foye.
"I thought the guys played hard, being outmanned after playing the game last night. I thought we played hard," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We made some mistakes. We got the 10-point lead and we got away from executing a little bit there. They made a run on us. I felt good about our opportunity to come back. We just couldn't get over it."
That didn't sit well with DeMarre Carroll.
"We were in the game the whole time. I think we just had a couple of mental mistakes," he said. "We were up by 10, and we should have stepped on their throat when we had the chance."
This one didn't mirror Friday's defensive slugfest, but it was an equally entertaining game, which included several rallies and wasn't decided until the home team pulled it out in the final minute.
Lillard, the reigning Western Conference rookie of the month, played a big role in helping Portland turn things around for good in the fourth quarter. The 6-2 guard hit a trey and sank a pair of free throws in an 11-4 Blazer run as Portland re-established a seven-point lead.
"I think he's continuing to grow every night he steps on the floor," Corbin said of Lillard, who scored a game-high 26 in Utah's win Friday. "He looked good for them."
All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge made it an eight-point Portland advantage with a turnaround shot with 1:33 remaining. But then Utah made it interesting again, cutting the lead to 99-96 after Foye's final 3-pointer with 33.9 to go.
J.J. Hickson hit two free throws with 19.9 seconds remaining — on a play Marvin Williams thought should have been a steal rather than a foul — and added two more with 14.5 remaining to secure the split.
About that third game?
It didn't doesn't actually happen until March 29 at the Rose Garden. The two teams even have a fourth date set for April 1 (no joke) in Utah.
While that's usually considered a quick turnaround to play the same team in the regular season, at least they'll get a couple days in between.
"It's a tough thing, but it's just part of the league," Corbin said of this weekend's scheduling quirk, the second of the season for Utah. "You just have to try and weather the storm."
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