When Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts entered the media room for his postgame news conference Friday, a member of the team’s media relations staff played a song from “Saturday Night Fever” on his phone. “I may break out and dance, you never know,” Stotts said. Stotts wore a 1970s leisure-suit style plaid jacket over a very wide-collared shirt, his personal tribute to former Blazers coach Jack Ramsay, who celebrated his 89th birthday Friday. But Stotts might’ve also danced a little in celebration after the Blazers’ 102-94 victory over the Utah Jazz at the Moda Center. If ever a team needed a win, it was Portland (37-18), which had lost a season-high three games in a row and was forced to play a second consecutive game without three of their main big men, including leading scorer and rebounder LaMarcus Aldridge, who sat out his second consecutive game with a left hip strain. “It was a win that we desperately needed,” Stotts said. “We found a way.” The game was no masterpiece by either team, and the Blazers seemed in trouble after playing a miserable third quarter in which they shot 29.2 percent from the field, while the young Jazz (19-35) shot 80 percent and took a 73-64 lead into the fourth. The Blazers took control with defense, using it to fuel a 14-2 run to start the fourth as they forced Utah into misses on 10 of its first 11 field goal attempts. During the run, the Blazers twice forced the Jazz into shot clock violations, and got steals from Mo Williams and Will Barton, and a block from Nicolas Batum. “It sounds like a cliché, but we were the aggressors, we were a little more tenacious,” center Robin Lopez said. “I really think it’s as simple as that.” No player was more tenacious than Lopez, who picked up a fourth foul in the third quarter, leading to an early hook from Stotts. But there was a silver lining in that he was fresh as he played the entire fourth and made a big impact, getting six points, seven rebounds and two blocks in the quarter to finish with 12 points, a career-high 18 rebounds and four blocks. “Robin was huge,” Stotts said. “He took a lot of responsibility. He had a tough matchup with (Enes) Kanter, and the same time was rebounding the ball and protecting the paint and everything he needed to do.” While Lopez helped make up for Aldridge’s absence on the boards, Damian Lillard, the Blazers’ other All-Star, carried the offense late, scoring 14 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter. “I definitely feel there are times I need to assert myself with the absence of L.A.” Lillard said. Already missing Aldridge, Joel Freeland and Meyers Leonard, the Blazers also had to play for long stretches without Nicolas Batum, who had missed practice Thursday because of gastroenteritis. Batum left the bench after playing 10:20 of the first quarter, and the Blazers announced he was questionable for the second half. But late in that miserable third quarter, Batum was suddenly back on the bench, and he checked into the game with 2:44 left. And while he wasn’t the second coming of Willis Reed, Batum did make an impact in the fourth quarter, hitting a three during the early run, and adding two assists and a block.
Defense fuels Trail Blazers win over Jazz
Oregonian | Feb 22