With a nod to Dr. Jack, Blazers dispose of Jazz
Terry Stotts, strutting along John Travolta-style in a plaid '70's sports jacket, smiled as the disco hit "Staying Alive" was queued upon his arrival at the postgame media session Friday night at the Moda Center.
"I may break out and dance, you never know," Portland's second-year coach said.
Stotts' table-cloth attire was in tribute to the 89th birthday of Jack Ramsay, the once-flamboyantly dressed coaching legend.
Ramsay, who guided the Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship, would have appreciated the gesture, as well as the Blazers' fourth-quarter performance in a come-from-behind 102-94 victory over Utah.
Portland outscored the Jazz 38-21 over the final 12 minutes to rally from a nine-point deficit after three periods and pull out "a win we desperately needed," Stotts offered. "We found a way."
It snapped a three-game losing streak for the Blazers (37-18), who had fallen on hard times over the past six weeks after a shockingly strong start. Once 24-5, Portland is 13-13 since and entered Friday's game 3-7 over its previous 10 outings.
A month ago, the Blazers would have looked down their nose at a difficult-to-pull-out win over the Jazz (19-35), whose record is better than only Sacramento and the Los Angeles Lakers (both 18-36) in the Western Conference.
Friday night, after escaping the jaws of defeat, the Blazers were making like they'd just knocked off the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers.
"It was an important win, a very good win for us," said center Robin Lopez, who contributed 12 points, a career-high 18 rebounds and four blocked shots.
"When you're going through a rough stretch, it's hard to get back on track," said point guard Damian Lillard, who scored 14 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter. "This win was the one that's going to get us back on track. I won't say (it's going to be) smooth sailing, but we got that win.
"It's like, 'Let's get it going back north now.' That's what we're looking forward to doing."
The Blazers don't get many style points for this one. They got through a sluggish first half with a 43-39 lead, then were outscored 34-21 in the third quarter by a Utah team ripe for an upset. The Blazers get credit for their fourth-quarter grit, though, after hauling themselves from a 73-64 hole after three periods.
"It's another game we won shooting under 44 percent (.429)," Stotts said. "We got back in the game with our defense. We need to take a lot of pride in that."
The Blazers did it without All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (groin) and reserve centers Joel Freeland (knee) and Meyers Leonard (ankle), all missing for the second straight game.
The win also came on a night when small forward Nicolas Batum gamely played 25 minutes despite gastrointestinal problems.
Lillard had scored 13 of his 31 points in the Blazers' 111-109 loss to San Antonio Wednesday night in the fourth quarter. On Friday night, he again seized the spotlight with the game on the line.
"As the other All-Star on the team, I'm going to take it upon myself to step up when the team needs it," said Lillard, who was only 11 for 28 from the field but dished out seven assists in his 37 minutes. "Other guys played a great role for us, too. But there are times when I feel like I need to assert myself a little bit more."
The Blazers scored the first 10 points of the fourth quarter, stretching it to a 16-2 run as the Jazz managed only a single basket in the first six minutes of the period. The visitors stayed in it until the end, trailing only 94-91 after Enes Kanter's jump shot with 1:21 remaining.
Portland was able to close it out, though, and could look back at defense -- a liability more than a strength this season -- as a big reason for the win.
"We didn't play well offensively," said Wesley Matthews, who scored 22 points, his biggest output since a 24-point barrage against Denver on Jan. 23. "A smaller lineup is still new for us, but we were able to turn it up defensively.
"In the fourth quarter, we really turned up our pressure. We tried to make their catches more difficult. We made sure to dig a little more, to contest shots a little better. We did all the little things. Those are things we're going to have to do while we're small."
In the fourth quarter, offered Lopez, "It sounds a little cliche, but we were the aggressors. We were a little more tenacious. I really think it's as simple as that."
It was a big night for both centers, as Kanter -- Utah's talented 21-year-old third-year center -- matched his career high with 25 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, blocked three shots and battled Lopez tooth and nail.
Kanter "has a lot of game down there on the post," Lopez said. "What's unique about him is having touch around the rim and away from the rim. He's such a big guy, and you can see he's putting the work in."
Lopez, though, was at least Kanter's match.
"'RoLo' does all the dirty work," Matthews said. "It's great to have him rewarded with a game like this."
"Robin was huge," Stotts added. "He took a lot of responsibility. He had a tough matchup with Kanter, at the same time rebounded and protected the paint and did everything we needed him to do. He only knows one way to play. Our guys feed off his energy.
"We need to play with that type of energy. With L.A. out, everybody who gets in there have to give energy. That's the style of play, especially now, we need to have."
All that was missing from Stotts' paying homage to Ramsay was the towel on which Dr. Jack kneeled on the Blazer sideline. Even so, it was a cool gesture to a great man and a wonderful era in the City of Roses.
"I'm no fashionista," Lopez quipped, "but I think (Stotts) was able to pull it off."
Stotts, on where he acquired the plaid jacket: "My wife got it on Amazon or E-Bay."
Portland's next action is Sunday night at home against Minnesota.
The Blazers moved into a tie with Houston for third place in the West behind Oklahoma City (43-13) and San Antonio (40-16).
Matthews, on the Blazers' mind-set after the triumph: "We did what we needed to do. We have a good feeling about us right now. Any time you win, no matter who you're playing, you'll take the win. We'll take this momentum and carry it into Sunday."
The Blazers were 17 for 17 from the line after not attempting a free throw in the first half. The last time they did not miss a foul shot was Feb. 13, 2013 (13-for-13, New Orleans).
Portland is 4-18 over the last three seasons without the services of Aldridge.
Aldridge, who is expected to miss at least the next two games, said after Friday's game he is "progressing nicely" and "feeling better."
Portland is 3-0 against Utah this season, the first season in which the Trail Blazers have reached that mark against the Jazz since 1997-98.
It was the 21st double-double of the season for Lopez.
Batum had three points on 1-for-4 shooting with three rebounds and three assists.
Dorell Wright had five points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes while starting his second straight game at power forward for Portland.
The Blazers' bench outscored the Utah reserves 30-19, with Mo Williams going for 13 points and four rebounds and Will Barton chipping in eight points in 3-for-5 shooting. It was the first action for Barton since Jan. 28.
Utah was without starting power forward Derrick Favors (hip) for the second game in a row.
With Kanter in the starting lineup, the Jazz are 1-23 this season. Without the services of Favors, they are 0-8.
Utah began the season 0-8 and 1-14, but since then has posted an 18-20 mark.