L.A. Closes Out Jazz in Utah
Savor this one, because it doesn’t happen very often. This one certainly came at a good time.
As you well know, this Trail Blazers team hasn’t exactly been nails in the fourth quarter this season. In past years you could just about slam the door shut when the Blazers led after three quarters. But, already this season the Blazers have lost 7 games when coming to the 4th with a lead (see previous post). That’s put a serious dent in this team’s confidence, obviously.
Perhaps the key in this game was that Portland didn’t actually come to the fourth quarter with a lead. The game was tied. But, soon enough, the Blazers did edge in front and that set in motion the hand wringing and worry that’s accompanied every fourth-quarter lead this season. Add to that the fact that Utah has been brilliant in fourth quarters this season (14-1 when leading after 3). If you were nervous until the clock struck zero in this game, you weren’t alone.
As I’ve said before, sometimes it’s very, very simple in this game. Most games it comes down to a big shot or two. Brandon Roy has been Portland’s closer, and main man in crunch time. That explains the lack of success in fourth quarters this season.
At Golden State on Christmas Day, the Warriors had their closer, Monta Ellis, and the Blazers couldn’t come up with the key bucket in the final three minutes. In this game, against Utah, the Blazers got the big shot. Simple science, big-time win.
There were a lot of clutch plays for the Blazers in this game, but the big shot, as we’re talking about in this context, came courtesy of LaMarcus Aldridge. He put together a huge fourth quarter, and did it against a physical Utah defense. With Portland leading by 6, and those familiar fourth-quarter worries creeping in, Aldridge hit a fade-away jumper over Al Jefferson that put the Blazers up 87-79 with just 1:14 left.
If you get the big shot, that helps you maintain the lead, then it becomes a free-throw shooting contest. Portland was good there too. They hit 9 of their 10 free throws in the final 30 seconds, scored on their final 9 possessions, and 96-91 win. Aldridge ended with 26 points, on 10-19 shooting, and badly outplayed both Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson.
Aldridge wasn’t the only Blazer who came through in the second half, however. Andre Miller was clutch from the field, and rock solid at the line. He ended with 17 points and 6 assists. Wesley Matthews, who got a huge ovation from Utah’s crowd during the starting lineups, struggled from the field, but had 14 points and 8 rebounds. As always, he added countless hustle plays to his stat line.
Of course, Portland wouldn’t have been in this game if it hadn’t been for the bench, led by Rudy Fernandez. The Jazz took control early in this game and threatened to turn it into a one-sided affair before halftime. But, Rudy had 11 points in the second quarter, was active at both ends, and provided the big-time support he’s been giving the team as of late.
The Blazers outrebounded the Jazz 41-31, and won despite Utah getting 31 from Deron Williams. The Jazz also hit 10 of their 20 three-point attempts.
The Trail Blazers were 2-16 in Salt Lake City since 2002. This was just the 15th win, all time, in this city. For whatever reason, this has been a brutal place to play. And, that’s not just Portland. Utah has always been a great home-court team.
Not to get on this soap box again, but what we’ve been seeing is a team playing well, and not closing games out. They don’t have their three-time all-star, and are shorthanded in other places as well. Here’s the scary part. We’ve talked about all of the games Portland has lost after holding leads going in the fourth quarter.. if they win just half of those games (not asking too much), they’d be 20-11 right now, instead of 16-15. That’s just to illustrate that it’s a fine line, and can be simple.
To listen to Nate McMillan's post-game comments,click here.
We’re in Denver now, and Tuesday night step foot in another building that has been a house of horrors for this franchise- The Pepsi Center. Portland has lost four in a row, and 13 out of 14 in that joint. If the Blazers can do it again, and get that big shot down the stretch like they got Monday, it would be a very impressive back to back.