With every game nearing “must-win” levels, the Utah Jazz simply would not quit Friday night versus division rival Portland Trail Blazers. Despite a slow start and then a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter, the Jazz dug in to earn a much-needed 105-95 road win.
Playing without All-Star forward Lamarcus Aldridge, Portland seemingly came out with more energy and urgency, resulting in a 52-42 halftime advantage. Things then turned around dramatically in the second half as Utah turned the tables, outdoing the Trail Blazers 63-43.
The game’s importance was magnified greatly before it even tipped off, as the other two teams vying for the Western Conference’s eighth seed — the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks — both fell Thursday night. With the exciting victory, Utah moves back into the lead for the final playoff spot.
Still smarting from Enes Kanter’s dislocated shoulder injury, several teammates rose up to the challenge.
After a lacking first-half effort (1-5 shooting, two points), Mo Williams simply was exceptional in the second (9-14, 26 points). He was aggressive and poised. In a smart move, Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin opted to play Williams more off the ball, with Gordon Hayward (eight assists) doing the facilitating. While Portland rookie sensation Damian Lillard finished with 24 points and seven assists, Williams countered well and snatched the win in the process.
The Jazz front court was huge, literally and figuratively. While J.J. Hickson, Meyers Leonard and Victor Claver had nice games, they simply were no match for the imposing trio of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors. Jefferson made big plays down the stretch, particularly on the defensive end. With 22 points, eight rebounds, four steals and two blocked shots, the Utah center may have had one of his most well-rounded outings of the season.
Like Williams, Millsap had a less-than-stellar first half and even started the second half on the bench in favor of Favors. If he had any ill feelings, he brushed them off, turning in a 25-point, 10-rebound evening. Favors was also strong with 13 points and 10 rebounds off the bench before fouling out.
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— A pair of former Jazz guards acquitted themselves quite nicely. Wesley Matthews’ shot was off, but he had 12 points, including a distant heave at the end of the first half. Eric Maynor continued his solid play since Portland traded for him, registering seven points and five assists in 21 minutes.
— Hayward’s eight assists matched a career-high.
— Portland small forward Nicolas Batum had 17 points on just six field goal attempts.
David Smith provides instant analysis for Deseret News' Utah Jazz coverage. He works for LDS Philanthropies and also blogs for the Utah Jazz 360 website. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at davidjsmith1232.