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Utah Jazz outlast Portland Trail Blazers in Jordan Clarkson’s debut

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Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) dunks over the Portland Trail Blazers in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Through three quarters Thursday night, it appeared as though the Utah Jazz would cruise past the Portland Trail Blazers at Vivint Arena.

The Jazz offense was excellent in those first 36 minutes, as it scored 96 points to build a 20-point lead, albeit against a Trail Blazers defense that was pretty porous.

But then as has happened numerous times this season, Utah gave up almost the entire lead, and held just a one-point advantage with 4:40 to play. This time, the Jazz made the necessary plays down the stretch, and came away with a 121-115 victory, the sixth in their last seven games.

Donovan Mitchell and former Weber State guard Damian Lillard went at it down the stretch, with Mitchell scoring 10 points to Lillard’s seven in the last 4:40. Mitchell finished with 35 to Lillard’s 34.

For all of Mitchell’s heroics, Rudy Gobert made two huge plays in the final minutes. First, he saved a ball from going out of bounds that he knocked out to Bojan Bogdanovic for a 3-pointer to put Utah up 112-107 with 1:45 to go. Then, he played excellent defense on Carmelo Anthony as the Jazz clung to a 115-112 lead inside of 30 seconds to play, forcing a virtually impossible shot, and Utah controlled things from there.

“Those two hustle plays by Rudy really sealed the game,” Mitchell said. “You can say what you want about my scoring and Joe (Ingles) and whatnot, but at the end of the day, it came down to Rudy making two big plays. That’s why he is who is who he is and that’s why we rely on him.”

All three of those players plus Bojan Bogdanovic finished in double figures on the night Jordan Clarkson made his debut for the Jazz after getting traded by the Cleveland Cavaliers for Dante Exum. 

Acquired by Utah to help boost its paltry bench, Clarkson led Utah’s second unit with nine points on 4-of-12 shooting with a steal in 21 minutes.

“I felt real comfortable,” said Clarkson, who entered the contest with 4:05 to play in the first quarter and made his first shot attempt a minute later. (Head coach Quin Snyder) told me to just play my game...I’m just happy for the opportunity to play and compete.”

Up next for the Jazz is a road game Saturday against the LA Clippers.