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Jazz get huge lift from bench in win over Trail Blazers

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Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gay dunks over Portland Trail Blazers forward Nassir Little.

Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gay dunks over Portland Trail Blazers forward Nassir Little during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021.

Amanda Loman, Associated Press

PORTLAND — Rudy Gay was the Utah Jazz’s leading scorer on Wednesday night, right up until Rudy Gobert hit a couple of free throws near the end of the fourth quarter in the Jazz’s 120-105 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Though Gobert led the team with 22 points to his name, Gay trailed just behind him with 21 points, and Gay did it off the bench in 24 minutes on 8 of 13 shooting, including going 4 of 7 from deep.

But Gay wasn’t the only one on the bench that buoyed the Jazz on Wednesday night. The Jazz bench scored 59 points.

“They were huge,” Gobert said of the Jazz’s secondary unit. “Having a good bench is so important in this league. There’s a lot of games that our bench is winning for us because of — obviously the level of talent that we have — but the focus and the way guys come into the game and impact the game in their own way.”

The bench performing well against the Blazers comes for a few different reasons. Gobert is right that the Jazz have a talented and experienced bench and that is contrasted in a big way when the Blazers field a team that includes a lot of inexperienced guys coming off the bench.

Specifically the Blazers played Reggie Perry, who was in just his 27th NBA game, and Cameron McGriff who was playing in just his second NBA game (his first was on Monday night). The number of players in the health and safety protocols has forced teams to sign hardship contracts, which is giving a lot of guys opportunities that they might not have had otherwise, but it also means that teams are having to deal with some inexperience.

That’s not to say that the Jazz bench performance on Wednesday night is anything to dismiss. Part of being a good NBA player is knowing when to take advantage of the other player or team’s weaknesses and the Jazz’s bench definitely did that on Wednesday.

In addition to Gay’s 21 points, Jordan Clarkson added 19 of his own, Hassan Whiteside chipped in 15 and Trent Forrest capped it off with four points.

This season, the Jazz’s bench unit ranks 8th in the NBA for points scored, averaging 37.4 points per game. Eighth is already pretty good, but when you look at how they stack up against other Western Conference contenders, the Jazz’s bench ranks second behind only the Phoenix Suns, whose bench averages 39.1 points per game.

“It’s a huge difference in the playoffs,” Gobert said of bench scoring. “The last few years all the teams that win championships are teams that have a good bench. It’s key for us.”

The Jazz are getting a good boost from their bench now, while they are missing Donovan Mitchell, and in the regular season in general and they’re going to need to have the bench step up in the same way when the postseason rolls around.