The best part of Portland’s 105-98 win over the Utah Jazz Wednesday night was probably the first five minutes.
That’s when the Western Conference leaders jumped out to a 16-4 lead on the Blazers. That part wasn't great -- but the reaction to the slow start was impressive.
No panic. No problem.
Portland just went to work at both ends of the court and finished the first half with a 59-56 lead, topped off in the final second with a long touchdown pass from Jusuf Nurkic to CJ McCollum that turned into the final hoop of the half.
“What I liked most was that we kept our composure after a slow start,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “We didn't shoot the ball well, we got down early on the road, and we kept our composure, kept competing and found a way to make it close in the first quarter.
“I thought defensively, we were really solid for the most of the game. The first quarter they got off to a hot start, we limited their three-point shooting. Obviously, they missed some. But I thought our defense had something to do with it as well.”
Limiting Utah’s three-point success is no small achievement.
The Jazz came into the game making three-point field goals at a 39 percent clip – incredibly impressive given that they are attempting them at an NBA-record pace of 43.2 per game.
They attempted 40 against Portland and made only 12 (30 percent).
Is that great defense or just a good shooting team just having a bad night?
“I think it’s both,” CJ McCollum said. "We were locked in. We knew what we wanted to execute, we knew who we wanted to shoot.
“You know, the backup point guard, we wanted him to shoot. We wanted some of those guys open. Obviously. Joe Ingles can shoot. Clarkson can shoot. Niang can shoot, but the rest of those guys, you’ll live with.
“Bogdanovic is a good shooter, but we ran him off the line for the most part. So, I think it's a combination -- they had some open looks they missed and they also had some tough shots they made.”
And here comes the zinger from McCollum for all the talk about the team’s defensive trials and tribulations.
“So, it's a part of the game,” he said. “But when they make every shot, you guys blame our defense, so when they miss, you should probably blame our defense, too.”
McCollum and Damian Lillard were at the top of their game, combining for 56 points, 10 assists and just three turnovers. Carmelo Anthony came off the bench to score 18 and hit four of his five three-point shots.
Jusuf Nurkic had 15 rebounds, 11 points, six assists, four blocked shots and three steals in a terrific performance at the defensive end.
The season-ending gauntlet the Trail Blazers are navigating continues Thursday night with a game vs. Phoenix, the West’s No. 2 team.
One more win will ensure Portland will not fall into the play-in tournament.