In one of the weirdest, wildest, shiftiest games of the season, the depleted Portland Trail Blazers rode a career-high 18 rebounds from Robin Lopez to a 102-94 win over the Utah Jazz.
There’s a lot to say about this game, but let’s start with Lopez: where would this team be without him? He was an absolute hero tonight, grabbing offensive rebounds (he had 6), altering and blocking shots (he had 4 blocks), and even chipped in an assist and a steal to go with his 12 points. His team-leading +20 in an 8-point win shows exactly how much of an impact he had when he was on the court. Is there anybody you’d want going to battle for you night in and night out besides Robin Lopez? Especially on nights like these, it’s tough to say. His run-out on the break for a flying dunk with seconds left in a game that was out of hand would have otherwise been considered poor sportsmanship; in this game, it was well-deserved.
Having given credit where credit is most urgently due, the recap:
The pre-game chatter was abuzz, and Terry Stotts was trending nationally on Twitter. Why? In honor of Jack Ramsay’s 89th birthday (for those who don’t know, Ramsay coached the ’77 Blazers to Portland’s only NBA championship), coach Stotts was all dressed up in a plaid jacket and an open-throat white shirt with a large collar. Well-played, Coach Stotts.
With LaMarcus Aldridge, Joel Freeland, and Meyers Leonard out, Coach Stotts had to get creative, starting Dorell Wright (5 pts, 7 rbs) for the second straight game and playing Will Barton (8 pts on 3-5 shooting) for stretches in place of Nicolas Batum (3-3-3 with a block) when Batum went to the locker room with the flu, or whatever ailment that kept him out of the last two practices. The lack of players meant Wes Matthews needed to step up (24 pts on 9-17 shooting), and he did.
Having recovered from fashion and lineup shock, the first quarter started well enough, and the Blazers were rotating and finding open looks to go up 12-6. Their “spicy tomato” offense quickly became more like “limp celery,” and both teams managed to look their worst with Portland up just 16-15 at the end of one. To be fair, lineups of Mo Williams (13 pts, 4 rbs), Will Barton, CJ McCollum (7 pts), Victor Claver (0-1-1 with a block), and Thomas Robinson (2 and 3 with a block) probably aren’t going to increase, or even hold, many leads, but to the surprise of many, all 16 Portland points came in the paint.
It was more of the same in the 2nd, until Will Barton decided to show people that he, and not Damian Lillard (28 points on 11-28 shooting with 7 assists), should have been the Blazer representing Portland in the dunk contest. On a fast break, Barton took a hard dribble and took off, going 360 for the one-handed slam with control and flair. It was Portland’s dunk of the year.
Another weird play came when Wright flew into the crowd and spilled wine over the spectators. Lillard then came in and wiped the wine off the head of a female fan… with his JERSEY. It was bizarre, but also oddly endearing.
Portland found themselves up 49-43 at the half, but the third quarter began rather inauspiciously. Lopez had 3 fouls, and Stotts tried to sub in Robinson, but there was no stoppage of play soon enough to prevent Lopez from picking up his fourth. That combined with flagging energy and the notable absence of Batum (who was assumed to be out the rest of the game battling the flu), the Blazers were down 73-64 going into the final quarter.
Almost immediately in the fourth, Batum got hit in the face to draw the Utah offensive foul. He then waltzed down and hit a three, his first bucket of the game. Then Barton slashed in for two. Then Lillard hit a bunny for two more. Then Lillard hit a three, and all of the sudden the Blazers were down just a single point. They kept pushing, and before long they had built a 5-point lead, but not before Lillard went SKY HIGH for the HUGE dunk off an out-of-bounds pass from Batum. Just really nasty, and it would have been the dunk of the game had it not been for “Vince” Barton’s acrobatics in the first half.
The Jazz never threatened again, and the Blazers, without their best player and their best backup big, avoided the embarrassment of a 4-game losing streak.
Portland gets a day of rest before stepping up to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday at 6:00 p.m. at the Moda Center.