SALT LAKE CITY – The Trail Blazers played one of their best games of the season Monday night in Vivint Smart Home Arena. And maybe that was because they played one of their best second halves of the season.
From top to bottom – the 109-104 decision over the Utah Jazz was a team win.
But check out some of these second-half contributions:
- Jusuf Nurkic was 2-8 from the field in the first half with two rebounds. He finished the game 8-17 with nine rebounds, seven assists and six blocked shots.
- Jake Layman played only 7:20 in the first half and scored two points. He finished with 12 points and two very big three-point field goals and played 18 minutes in the second half, including every second of the final quarter.
- Meyers Leonard had only two first-half points but went 2-2 from three-point distance in the second half and finished with eight points.
- The Jazz shot 45.5 percent in the first half, but just 34 percent after halftime.
- Portland shot 44.4 percent in the first half, making just 1-of-5 from three-point range. However in the second half, the Trail Blazers shot 55.6 percent overall and made 7-of-13 from distance.
A lot of the second-half success had to be attributed to simply growing accustomed to playing against Utah’s shot-blocking demon Rudy Gobert, who is tough to handle at both ends.
On offense, the Jazz do a great job of putting Gobert’s defender in a cat-and-mouse game of either picking up a guard at the rim – allowing for a lob to Gobert or an offensive put-back – or allowing the guard to get a layup while staying with Gobert.
But Nurkic turned it around at halftime, particularly in a hot third quarter.
“I’m capable of doing that,” Nurkic said of his second-half performance. “I have really grown up since I came to Portland. I’ve learned no matter how bad things are in the first quarter or second quarter, there’s always a new quarter.
“I can make smarter decisions. I think Dame helped me out a lot.”
Nurkic got into a little tiff with Jae Crowder in the third quarter and it seemed to perk him up.
“I don’t know,” he said. “People walk into me and I’m not going to back up. He doesn’t want to fight. He just wants a conversation, I guess.”
Lately a lot of people seem to want a conversation with Nurkic, including Sacramento’s Iman Shumpert.
“I’m just a busy man, I don’t have time for it,” Nurkic said with a smile.
Coach Terry Stotts liked what he got from his big center.
“Well, the second half Nurkic was huge at both ends,” Stotts said. “He had a presence in the paint. He’s blocking shots, and obviously pick-and-rolls, finishing around the basket.”
Leonard had no hesitation to his shooting Monday and that’s been slowly vanishing from his game.
“Yeah, that’s important,” he said. “That’s something I’ve been working on a lot with the coaches in practice. Honestly, that’s another progression for me.”
There were plenty of heroes in this one. Damian Lillard had 26 points, eight assists and eight rebounds. Evan Turner played the entire fourth quarter and chalked up 10 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
The Blazers have no time to celebrate this one. They hopped on their charter after the game and headed for Oklahoma City, where they meet the Thunder Tuesday night.