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Jazz Rout Blazers in Return From All-Star Break

With the dust settling in the aftermath of Thursday’s trade deadline, the Jazz took on the Portland Trail Blazers in the teams’ first games since the All-Star Break. Enes Kanter’s comments just before the break confirmed what many had been thinking since Rudy Gobert began to emerge. The logjam down low had to be sorted out sooner or later, and the Jazz front office opted to resolve the problem right away. The Jazz did as well as could be hoped for with the trade, given the circumstances. While Utah could have possibly gotten more out of Kanter as a sign and trade asset this summer, there are now 29 more games for Rudy Gobert to develop as a starter. Also lost in the shuffle is the fact that the Jazz were able to offload the rest of Steve Novak’s contract, freeing up nearly 4 million dollars that they can now use in free agency this summer. Meanwhile, the Blazers added Aaron Afflalo to intensify their push for high seeding in the playoffs and a deep run. Afflalo was not with the team tonight, and it looks like they may need him going forward.

With Enes gone it was Rudy Gobert’s time to shine. He started off his first game as the long term starting center for the Jazz by losing the tip to Robin Lopez. He only played four minutes in the first quarter, where he picked up two quick fouls. He was definitely excited to embrace his new role, and it may have led to some of his early problems. The Jazz got off to a slow start in the first, only shooting 34% to Portland’s 56% from the field. Still, the Jazz kept it close by limiting Portland’s offensive opportunities. The Blazers were only able to put up 16 shots, keeping them well behind their average offensive pace. Portland puts up 86.3 FGA per game, which is the fifth most in the NBA this season. It was an ugly first quarter, but that style was more to the Jazz’ liking. LaMarcus Aldridge had 8 points and 5 rebounds. Derrick Favors had 7 points and Trevor Booker stepped in to pick up 5 rebounds for the Jazz.

The Jazz started to pick it up in the second quarter. Joe Ingles got open to hit a couple of threes, and Rudy Gobert had a monster block on CJ McCollum when he finally returned after his 12-minute stretch on the bench. The Jazz led for a good portion of the second quarter, but Portland regained their compure to take a 43-39 lead into halftime. Still, the Jazz outscored the Blazers 21-19 in the second. Utah was also able to cool Portland off a little, dropping their field goal percentage to 44% overall and 30% from three. The Jazz, on the other hand, didn’t shoot well themselves. They went into the half shooting 36% from the floor (16-44). Derrick Favors led the Jazz in scoring at halftime with 10 points. Gordon Hayward was pretty quiet, only scoring 5 points and grabbing no rebounds. He did, however, have a steal (that led to a fast break dunk) and an assist. Rodney Hood also returned to action for the Jazz, hitting a three. Jeremy Evans saw some minutes during Rudy’s absence from play. Evans pulled down 3 rebounds in the first half.

Coming into the third the Jazz would have to find a way to improve their shooting percentage and continue to limit Portland’s chances in order to come away with another upset against one of the elite teams in the Western Conference. That’s exactly what they did. After a slow first half, Gordon Hayward picked up his intensity on both ends of the floor. He came out of the break and hit some big shots to get the Jazz back in the lead. On top of that he grabbed another steal and dished out some more assists. The Jazz continued to slow the Blazers down offensively. They limited Portland to just 16 points in the third. The Jazz scored 26 in the third quarter, led by Hayward’s 10 points, 2 rebs, 2 ast, and 2 steals in that frame. Hayward has had some big second halves so far this season, and this was no exception. Utah’s defense through three quarters was very impressive, but the shooting still left something to be desired. After 3 the Jazz were shooting 40%, which isn’t horrible, but the number of open misses was troubling. However, Trey Burke hit some great midrange jumpers, including some nice shots he was able to get off under screens. Burke was feeling it, finishing the third with 17 points and 3 assists.

The Jazz came out hot once again in the fourth; Exum had a steal right out the gate, which led to a basket on the other end. Shortly thereafter the rookie hit a three of his own and then dished out an assist to fellow rookie Rodney Hood who connected on his second three of the game. The Jazz were firing on all cylinders to start the last quarter, going on a 10-0 run to extend their lead to 16 before the Blazers were forced to call a timeout with just under 10 minutes to go. The timeout proved to be ineffective, as the Jazz added 5 more unanswered points before Batum finally ended the run with a put back. Portland’s success was short lived, though. The Jazz continued to make shots and force the Blazers into turnovers. Overall the Jazz put together a 20-2 run to start the 4th. Booker had a huge slam on a fast break that nearly blew the roof off the ESA. Portland had no answer to the pace the Jazz put on in the fourth quarter. While the Jazz only scored 92 points, they played with good energy and improved their shooting percentage to 45% overall and 40% from 3. The final score was 92-76.

This was a great win for the Jazz. With uncertainty after off loading a player who was once thought to be a key part of the future, this game showed that the players who do want to be here are proud to be a part of this organization. The Jazz have wins over some of the best teams in the league this year. They’ve overcome slow starts, and they’ve put teams away. While their record is nearly identical to last year at the same point, there are significant improvements in areas that were big struggles previously. The All-Star break seemed to do the Jazz well, and they were able to continue on the defensive improvements they had made before the time off. The players looked focused and rejuvenated for the home stretch. The Jazz only won 6 of their final 29 games last year. Getting this win will be big in motivating the Jazz to a strong finish, and to likely eclipse last year’s win total. In his postgame press conference, Quin Snyder mentioned how this young team needs to be able to convert nights like this into long stretches throughout the season. When this team figures out how to play like this on a consistent basis it will be fun to watch.

Derrick Favors – 16 pts 9 rbs

Gordon Hayward – 20 pts, 3 ast, 3 stl, 4 rbs

Trey Burke – 19 pts, 3 ast

Rudy Gobert – 4 pts, 7 rbs, 5 blk

 

Postgame Audio:

 

Quin Snyder – http://espn700sports.com/?p=59579

 

Trey Burke – http://espn700sports.com/?p=59585

 

Trevor Booker – http://espn700sports.com/?p=59591

 

Gordon Hayward – http://espn700sports.com/?p=59597

 

Rudy Gobert – http://espn700sports.com/?p=59603

 

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