The new-look Utah Jazz shook off some early dust and used a stellar fourth quarter to defeat the Portland Trail Blazers 92-76. It was the Jazz’s first game sans center Enes Kanter, who was traded on Thursday.
Why the Jazz won: While its offense sputtered out of the gate, Utah’s defense was solid throughout. With Rudy Gobert assuming his new role as the starting center, the Jazz defense was tenacious and aggressive. Gobert, Derrick Favors and Trevor Booker we formidable inside and Utah’s swingmen caused all sorts of problems with their swarming effort. Nothing came easy for the Trail Blazers, as they made just 26 of 72 from the floor (36.1 percent). A team known for its prolific perimeter shooting, Portland connected on just 4 of 22 3-pointers.
Turning point: In a low scoring affair, Portland held the edge for much of the first half and midway through the third quarter. Utah rode an energetic wave to take a 65-59 lead after three periods. Then came an offensive onslaught by the Jazz. Within a span of less than two minutes, Utah connected on four 3-pointers, each by different rookies (Joe Ingles, Dante Exum, Rodney Hood and Elijah Millsap). That spurt blew the game open. The Jazz were dominant on both ends of the court in the fourth.
What it means: In their first game in nine days, many wondered how the Jazz would respond to Thursday’s move that jettisoned Kanter and sharpshooter Steve Novak. If Friday was any indicator, several players are poised to step up and take advantage of new opportunities. While the biggest recipient — both literally and figuratively — is Gobert; others like Booker, Millsap and Jeremy Evans will have chances to earn enhanced roles in head coach Quin Snyder’s system.
Grading the performance: The start was a bit lackluster and there were continued struggles from the free throw line. Beyond those aspects, the Jazz put forth a very good effort. The fourth quarter easily ranks as one of the best of the season, with highlight after highlight. Favors and Gordon Hayward kept up their great play and the Utah bench, propelled by Trey Burke, helped fuel the win.
Utah Jazz grade: A-
After making a trade of their own, the Trail Blazers were a bit short-handed as they await the arrival of swingmen Arron Afflalo and Alonzo Gee. Its veterans came out well to start, but the energy was just not there for Portland in the final three quarters. The ball was not moving and Utah absolutely controlled the boards. The star trio of LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and former Jazzman Wesley Matthews were kept in check. Portland’s bench lent little support.
Portland Trailblazers grade: C-
Three telling stats:
-- Utah’s reserves ran their counterparts off the court, outscoring them 41-14. Four Jazz bench players had plus-minus marks of +12 or better, including a +23 for Evans.
-- Portland’s listless play can be seen throughout the stat sheet. The Blazers managed to collect just three offensive rebounds and while they only had 13 turnovers, the total exceeded their 12 team assists.
-- It was a true team effort for the Jazz. Eight players tallied three or more boards. Utah also had 18 assists compared to just eight turnovers — a nice 2.25 ratio.
Up next: Despite coming off an extended All-Star break, the Jazz have a few days off before hosting the San Antonio Spurs. The defending champions traditionally excel in the second half of the season and will likely be firing on all cylinders.
David Smith provides instant analysis for Deseret News' Utah Jazz coverage. He works for LDS Philanthropies and also writes for Salt City Hoops (ESPN's Jazz affiliate). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at davidjsmith1232.