The Utah Jazz are hanging on tight to the tail of the Western Conference playoff race. The Portland Trailblazers are a few steps behind, and not exactly gaining ground. On Monday night in Portland, the two clubs looked their parts, with the Blazers crumbling down the stretch while the Jazz scrapped and adapted to overcome an early deficit and take the road win, 102-97.
The Blazers came out with -- and to some extent sustained -- ridiculously hot shooting from outside. Wesley Matthews, who wasted a gem of a 33-point (10-12) outing, was drilling long jumpers right from tip-off while LaMarcus Aldridge had his way inside the arc. Portland's bench sustained the momentum, building the lead to as much as 14 points. But after sputtering to start, the Jazz adjusted and attacked, ripping into Portland's lead in a matter of seconds. Blazer's Edge describes the scene:
The starters checked back in with a little less than half of the second quarter remaining, promptly conceding a 7-0 run to Utah, who looked to combat Aldridge by utilizing a lineup withat small forward. On offense, the Jazz began exploiting Ray Felton on the pick and roll, leading to being isolated against , a tough ask for any big. Though Harris left the game with a few minutes left in the quarter, the Blazer lead continued to evaporate as the offense deteriorated into jump shooting. An off-balance 18-footer from Felton ended the half, the 14-point Blazer lead having shrunk to 3.
Utah would take the lead in the third and hold that edge for much of the second half, getting massive boosts from Millsap (who finished with 31 points) and Gordon Hayward (20) around the basket. Portland's shooting picked up again in the fourth, and it actually stormed its way back into the lead with a 10-0 run. Down the stretch, though, Utah pushed the ball inside for big baskets while the Blazers just collapsed. Raymond Felton dribbled the ball out of bounds off his foot, then mishandled a poorly timed inbound pass from Nicolas Batum to squander two of Portland's most crucial possessions. Batum missed the three-pointer that would have tied it in the closing seconds, and Utah emerged victorious.
The win moved Utah to 28-26, just one game behind eighth-seeded Houston. Portland, meanwhile, slipped to 25-29, a full four games out of that final spot.
For all of Monday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.