Damian Lillard led the Blazers in scoring Friday night, but didn't get a look do the stretch. Photo courtesy of the AP.

Game 46 Recap: Blazers 77, Jazz 86

Certainly we all knew the time was coming, I’m just not so sure anybody thought that it would only take 46 games to get there.

What am I talking about?

I’m talking about how in only 46 games as a professional Damian Lillard has established himself as probably Portland’s most important offensive weapon. He’s already been super clutch in a ton of situations and in a ton of games. He’s tried to win games all by himself (and failed and succeeded). And he’s developed into, at worst, a serviceable, steady, and reliable borderline All-Star point guard.

But what we haven’t seen, at least not until Friday’s loss to the Utah Jazz, was a game in which  taking the offensive focus off of Damian Lillard stopped Portland’s offensive momentum and stalled out the Blazers’ most recent comeback effort.

LaMarcus Aldridge has shown that he is and should be the centerpiece of Portland’s offensive game-plan, but Friday’s game showed that Damian Lillard’s offensive game is equally as important as LA’s, even more important when LaMarcus shoots 6-of-17 from the field.

So what am I talking about specifically? This: from the 5:58 mark in the third quarter to the 3:57 mark in the fourth quarter Damian made seven shots from the field and three free throws. Everybody else on the Blazers made five shots from the field.

Dame’s three-pointer with 3:57 left in the game cut Utah’s lead to five. Portland would get no closer. And here’s why. In Friday’s final three minutes and 57 seconds, Damian had only one shot attempt.

I don’t think there was a conspicuous effort by the Blazers to stop going to Lillard, but I do think Portland tends to force-feed LaMarcus Aldridge in most late-game situations. Friday, LA’s shot was off. Forcing the ball into the post for high percentage shots is usually not a bad game plan, but when Lillard is rolling the way he was on Friday, he needs to continue to get the ball.

LaMarcus Aldridge is still the Blazers’ go-to guy, it’s just time for Portland to realize that Damian Lillard is that guy too. That it took only 46 games to get there is pretty amazing, that Damian Lillard’s breakout games seem to come in losses, that his impact is lessened in a game like Friday’s when he doesn’t get the ball in the stretch run (and not just in the last minutes or so when the Blazers go to a flat one-four and let Dame improvise) is a bit frustrating.

I’m going to keep this recap short since Portland plays Utah again Saturday. I’ll just say this, the Blazers have learned a lot of things already this season, if they learned anything significant on Friday it’s that Lillard’s offensive potency can carry Portland all by himself.

Couple of quick things:

  • There was a lot of back-and-forth coaching going on Friday. The most successful move/counter move came from Utah’s coach Ty Corbin. Portland’s head coach Terry Stotts has a tendency to play Luke Babbitt heavy (or heavier) minutes when the Blazers play a team that loads up the paint. The objective is to pull an opponent’s four away from the rim to have to guard Babbitt. This opens up the paint for LaMarcus Aldridge, who slides over to the five. Often the counter-move is to bring in a three to guard Babbitt at the four. Portland effectively forces their opponent to go small. Utah is not a small-ball team. Instead of putting in a three to guard Babbitt (who played 21 minutes, his highest total minutes played in three weeks), Corbin used Derrick Favors, a burly, bullheaded power forward. Favors doesn’t have the speed to effectively close-out Luke on defense, but he also isn’t the kind of player Babbitt can defend AT ALL. Corbin gambled that Luke wasn’t going to kill him on threes, or at least his deep threat could be overcome by what Favors could do on offense. He was right. Babbitt finished with six points; Derrick Favors had seven points and 12 rebounds.
  • Meyers Leonard played five and a half minutes, and picked up three fouls.
  • Chris Haynes reported Friday evening that Damian Lillard was selected to compete in the Skills Challange at the All-Star Game.
  • Wesley Matthews sprained his ankle Friday. His status is up in the air for Saturday.

Box Score

Standings

@mikeacker | @ripcityproject | [email protected]

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Tags: Blazers Damian Lillard Jazz LaMarcus Aldridge

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