Utah

“Credit to the Blazers” | Utah has no answer for Lillard, Fall 134-124 to Portland

When a player is in a zone, sometimes there’s nothing the opposing team can do — and Utah found that out the hard way Wednesday night.

In a career night for Damian Lillard, the Jazz had no answer for the sharp-shooting guard as they fell to Portland 134-124.

“Thanks to the Blazers,” head coach Will Hardy said. “What started out as a very concentrated, detailed game for us fell apart defensively in the second quarter. … Some of those are mental errors, some of those are 11-for-14 from three in this quarter. Coming out of half-time, we again didn’t have the focus defensively to get enough stops in this game.

Despite the defeat, it was a night that made history for Lauri Markkanen.

With a three-pointer early in the first quarter, he set an NBA record for a three-pointer made in 37 straight games, the highest ever by a 7-footer in league history. While his streak of double-doubles ended, he still finished with 24 points – his 17th straight game in which he scored more than 20 points.

Since returning from a hamstring injury a few weeks ago, Collin Sexton has been in tears as Utah’s sixth man — and Wednesday was more of the same.

He was just the spark Utah needed to keep it tight and often came up with a big bucket, using his speed and athleticism to attack the rim. He finished with 19 points, four rebounds and two assists, shooting 8 of 11 from the field and 3 of 3 from three-point territory.

You knew it was going to be a good night for Damian Lillard as he knocked down a low three on his first try at play – but the Jazz had a great reaction. Behind five points from Markkanen, Utah went on a 12-2 run and led by seven points halfway.

Portland would later cut the deficit to four, but Sexton was seething from the deep. After two free throws from Markkanen, Sexton hit back-to-back threes as the Jazz ended the quarter on an 8-0 run.

Utah led 31-19 after one.

Despite the double-digit lead in the second round, the Jazz couldn’t maintain it as Lillard and Portland caught fire from across the arc.

The quarter started with both teams exchanging buckets, with Utah responding each time the Blazers seemed to fight back. A three-pointer from Talen Horton and Tucker made it a 10-point game, but Portland rallied to take the lead after a three-pointer from Lillard, ending an 11-0 run.

The Jazz briefly took the lead after a quick 6-0 run after back-to-back threes from Malik Beasley and Jordan Clarkson, but Portland responded with two leads with just under a minute to go. Each team knocked down two threes in the last minute, with Portland having the last word when Nassir Little Three hit the buzzer.

Utah was 66-64 down at the break.

The Jazz still needed a defensive response for Portland to start the third as their deficit reached seven in less than two minutes. But Mike Conley answered for Utah, scoring five straight to stop the bleeding – although it didn’t last long.

Lillard stayed hot, and the Jazz had no answer as their deficit reached 15 just over three minutes from time. Though Clarkson seemed to have found a rhythm, he was no match for Lillard as he tacked 20 straight Blazer points by the end of the quarter.

However, Sexton found a rhythm by the end of the quarter to save the Jazz. He scored six points in the last two minutes and helped close the gap with a three from Rudy Gay.

Utah trailed 102-91 and entered fourth place.

When the deficit hit 15 and just under 10 to play, jazz gave him a final push. A gay three helped spark an 8-2 run, with Horton-Tucker scoring the last five points to make it a nine-point game at center.

The Jazz had all the momentum as Markkanen’s bucket made it a seven-point game after a successful tackle that saw Sexton block a shot. But it was short-lived as Utah’s defense fell apart and the Blazers hit layups on three straight possessions to once again record a double-digit deficit.

Despite receiving open looks from deep on four consecutive possessions, the Jazz failed to take down one – ending the comeback attempt.

“We didn’t work well enough with our pickup points on Lillard. … I just don’t think we were very detailed in our execution of the doubles teams,” Hardy said. “We have to go back home, train again and keep focusing on the little things and not letting the other team’s goals take us out of our mindset in the game. … I just have to keep finding ways to stay focused during these difficult moments.

Clarkson finished the tournament with 18 points and three assists while Conley added eight points, 10 assists and five rebounds. Horton-Tucker and Vanderbilt added 12 points while Gay added 11 points — the Jazz finished with 58 bank points.

Lillard finished with 60 points.

Utah will have two days to figure things out before welcoming Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks to town on Saturday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m

“I have no doubt that our team will bounce back,” Hardy said.

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