Portland had Utah looking in the rearview mirror for much of the game, but stepped up their defense and overcame a 10-point 3rd quarter deficit to top the Jazz for their second straight game, 99-92.
Lillard worked through a bad shooting night to lead the Blazers with 24 points, 4 assists and 3 steals (with 4 turnovers) in 32 minutes. Mo Williams chipped in 17, LaMarcus Aldridge had 16, and Robin Lopez gets the hustle award by contributing 13 and 13 with 2 blocks.
After the Blazers looked discombobulated and unmotivated much of the first half and into the third quarter, the turning point came when Lopez kicked off a Portland run with offensive rebounds, blocks, and second chance buckets early in the third to shift the tone of the game. It rubbed off on Lillard, who went on a flurry of his own with a display of poise and power that he’s developing as his M.O., muscling through 2 or more defenders at the rim for fouls or buckets. By the end of the third quarter, the Blazers had gone on a 21-6 run and never trailed again.
Joel Freeland, with an underwhelming 4 points but a sturdy 7 boards, continues to look like an NBA player with his energy and presence, and even had the distinction of icing the game with a free-throw line jumper with 35 seconds left. There’s something different about him that isn’t showing up in the box score: he looks ready to contribute, and the Blazers will more than welcome the help.
Wes Matthews also played through a poor shooting night, but stayed active on both ends and continued to show off his new-found handles for 11 points, 8 boards, and 5 dimes. Impressive. Thomas Robinson was held scoreless, but kept his head up and brought good energy, corralling 6 boards in just 16 minutes
LaMarcus could have eaten Andris Biedrins alive on every play, but frustratingly chose not to drive even when given the opportunity. One play was particularly maddening, beating Biedrins on the left block baseline that could have led to a bucket, but deciding to hesitate and pull back, only to attack again left and get fouled. If Aldridge could look at how Lillard is totally and completely unafraid to take contact at the rim, it might do him some good.
Enes Kanter looked amazing for the Jazz in the first half, finishing with 23 points on 10-17 shooting, but they’re lacking a star. It’s hard to see how the Jazz will do much of anything without some serious retooling. For all the criticism of Neil Olshey for failing to get Portland a third star, at least they have Lillard, Aldridge, Batum, and a host of other good (or at least serviceable) players.
The Blazers pull their preseason record to 2-2 (both wins against the Jazz), and will face the Clippers Friday at 7:30 in L.A.