After Utah went up five in overtime Juwan Howard spent the next two possessions with his head in his hands. And in one way or another, so did every other Trail Blazer player, coach and fan Sunday night, as the Utah Jazz overcame a 25 point deficit to come back and win in overtime, 93-89.
It was an astounding, heartbreaking defeat—a boot to the throat of Trail Blazer dignity. The kind after which everyone involved needs a stiff drink. Even coach McMillan, who usually keeps his feelings close to the chest, opened up a bit.
The wheels came off in the fourth quarter where Portland scored a season low 10 points on two of 17 (11%) shooting from the field, and just about everything was to blame: poor effort, missed shots, coasting on a big lead, turnovers, killer instinct, execution, and increased energy and effort from the Jazz.
Down two with the final shot, Deron Williams missed a decent look from 20 feet, but Carlos Boozer grabbed the rebound—his 21st of the game—and flipped it back in just before time expired. Boozer finished with 22 points, while setting new career highs in total rebounds (23) and offensive boards (eight).
And although Marcus Camby had a mostly terrific outing in his second game as a Blazer—he finished with 18 rebounds and four blocks—that final rebound he allowed Boozer to grab as regulation ended was the nail in the coffin. Sure, there was overtime and the Blazers technically had a chance, but it was clear that the Jazz, who came out flat, were finally engaged and in control.
Since January 9th Utah has been, by far, the hottest team in the. They’ve put together an NBA best record of 17-2 in that time, and their current seven-game road winning streak is their longest since 2001, when Stockton and Malone were still running Sloan’s pick and roll. It was the first time the Jazz have swept the season series from the Blazers since 2005-06.
Utah coach Jerry Sloan was jubilant after the gutsy victory, cracking jokes while asserting that, even when his team went down 25, he never gave up hope.
While some will point to Brandon Roy’s 23 points and say that perhaps he is able to play through the nagging hamstring injury I present the following: Roy had the Blazers worst +/- ratio by far, while he was on the court, the Jazz outscored Portland by 21. Roy was also responsible for five turnovers, uncommon for him in health. The hobbling star grabbed only one rebound, which may also be an indicator that he’s not able to mix things up physically.
The Blazers final chance came with :11 seconds in overtime. Roy caught the ball above the three point line, dribbled in a step or two, and jacked up a three with Deron Williams right in his face. Again, it didn’t seem especially Roy-like—it seemed like he settled.
During the second half Sunday Roy tried new in-game treatments to lessen the pain and keep loose his balky hamstring. He used heat packs and rode a stationary bike, which alleviated some tightening. That said, Roy admitted the pain at times was pretty serious (2:45):
Nicolas Batum broke out of his recent stretch of anonymity Sunday, scoring 14 points in the first half, and adding a number of highlight reel plays, including a stunning full-court run-down block of a cherry-picking Deron Williams, who surely didn’t see the lanky Frenchman coming.
While coach McMillan said afterwards that he considered starting Batum in the second half, the young small forward didn’t check in until just 1:07 remained in the third. By then Batum had cooled off. He would not score again, though his defense and rebounding remained persistent. Batum’s nine boards tied a career-high. After the game I asked him how it feels to have a hot first half only to find himself stuck on the bench:
Indeed, it’s a little frustrating. But nowhere near as frustrating as blowing a 25 point lead with 7:07 to play in the third quarter. And the crummy stats continue: the loss was the Blazers’ fourth in five games at the Rose Garden. Only one game separates Portland and New Orleans for the eighth playoff spot in the West.
Ugh. Now where’s that drink?