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."
Paul Millsap had 18 points and eight rebounds, and Marvin Williams had one of his better games in a while with 15 points. Al Jefferson had a quiet night with 12 points, six rebounds and five assists. Carroll had 11 points.
The Jazz's defense, however, wasn't nearly as physical or stingy as it had been the previous night. Portland shot 50.7 percent Saturday after struggling to hit only 36.7 percent Friday.
"They had that home energy. Normally, home teams do, but I still think we played well enough to win the game," Jefferson said. "They did a good job of double-teaming me all night, but my teammates were knocking down shots and taking advantage of it."
While getting double-doubles from three players — Aldridge (18 points, 11 rebounds), Nicolas Batum (12/11) and J. J. Hickson (21/11) — the Blazers also got more production off their bench than in Friday's 10-point outing. That offensive help mostly came from Nolan Smith, who had 13 points, while Luke Babbitt and Will Barton combined for 15 points.
The Blazers won despite not playing ex-Jazz guards Wesley Matthews and Ronnie Price, both of whom injured their ankles in Friday's game.
"You've got to give them credit," Corbin said. "They played hard."
For a while, this looked like it might be another Utah victory — perhaps even a rare road blowout.
Foye hit one of his six 3-point bombs midway through the third quarter to put the Jazz ahead 63-53.
Then it all fell apart for Utah on offense and defense.
The Blazers scored two straight touchdowns — extra points included — to turn that 10-point Jazz lead into a 67-63 Portland advantage.
Lillard had a pair of 3-pointers in the Blazers' game-changing 14-0 run.
Portland's five-and-a-half-minute push was finally put to an end when Jefferson scored with 29.1 seconds left in the third quarter.
"We had a nice little flow going and we missed a few layups point blank," Millsap said. "And they started that little run."
Even after squandering a double-digit advantage, the Jazz revived themselves in the fourth quarter to knot things up again after Derrick Favors scored inside, Millsap registered an old-fashioned three-point play and Alec Burks drained a 3-pointer.
That tied the game at 79 with eight minutes remaining.
It didn't take Portland long, however, to reclaim momentum and get a boost from the raucous Rip City crowd.
With a limited amount of guards at his disposal, Corbin had to do some creative mixing and matching with lineups. At one point, he even had Alec Burks at point guard, Carroll at shooting guard and Millsap in the small forward spot.
"Everybody in uniform looked forward to playing," Corbin said. "I told the guys before the game, 'I may have to put some guys in different positions tonight, be ready to go.' And they've been resilient all year about just coming out and playing the position or the minutes that we give them on the floor and try to give us a chance to win, and they did that again tonight."
The Jazz return for three home games next week, beginning Monday with a game against Jimmer Fredette and the Sacramento Kings.
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