PORTLAND — Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder had a bit of a smirk. Before Saturday’s game, the Jazz head coach was asked about Damian Lillard and the absurd run he has been on — and Snyder couldn’t help but smile in a bit of disbelief.
In Lillard’s last five games coming into Saturday, he had averaged 48.4 points. That included a 61-point explosion and a 48-point performance 24 hours earlier in an emotional game in Los Angeles.
“How many times he's given us 16, 18 in a quarter,” Snyder said. “ … He's going to give his team what he needs. And in this case, he's felt the game. That's how he's played. And then the fact that a lot of people can think about doing that, to actually be able to go out and do it, and do it again. And do it again. And do it again. It's pretty unique.”
Lillard did it again on Saturday in Portland’s 124-107 win over the Jazz at Moda Center.
With 2:45 left, the Moda Center crowd rose to its feet. The game was well over at that point, but anticipation filled the arena as Lillard dribbled purposefully up the court. He drove hard to the rim, jumped into traffic — and couldn’t hit the circus shot.
That didn’t matter. The crowd still gave a long ovation and showered him with chants of “MVP, MVP, MVP.”
And to be frank, it was a surprise Lillard missed that shot. Because at this point, it’s a surprise whenever he misses.
Lillard checked out with 2:15 to go, with the Portland audience's loving approval, after scorching the Jazz (32-17) for 51 points. The Lillard inferno is still blazing after Saturday. The former Weber State guard was 17 of 29 from the field, 9 of 15 from the 3-point line and he added 12 assists too. He has now scored over 50 points in three of the last six games.
“When you play a player like that, you have to bring the level up to that,” Snyder said. “He scores — but tonight he scores and he had assists. He was able to do what he wanted. I believe we are better, and we have to demonstrate that.”
Lillard was phenomenal, there’s no questioning that, but his blazing night continued a worrying trend for the Jazz. On Monday, Eric Gordon scored 50 on the Jazz. On Wednesday, DeMar DeRozan hung 38. So it was clear to anyone who had been paying attention that Lillard was primed to go off on the Jazz.
“Talking, communicating, and we have to do it together,” Donovan Mitchell said of the struggles on defense. “It’s nothing selfish, it just happens. Offense isn’t the problem. I think for us, just find ways to communicate and talk.”
It’s been a rough stretch for the Jazz, who have now lost four straight after winning 20 of 22.
After jumping out to an 11-point lead behind a stellar opening quarter from Mike Conley, who scored 19 of his 22 points in the first half, the Jazz quickly surrendered a 12-0 run to end the first quarter. And the runs kept on coming. Portland had a 15-0 to end the second and then another 13-0 run in the third. It’s hard to win games — hard to even stay connected — when you’re allowing runs like that.
“I don’t know that it is effort as much as it is execution,” Snyder said. “It requires more mental effort to execute, particularly when you are doing something that is not habitual, that you haven’t done.”
Mitchell led the Jazz with 25 points on 11-of-21 shooting and Bojan Bogdanovic had 22 points. But Rudy Gobert (just 6 points) was severely outplayed by Hassan Whiteside (17 points, 21 rebounds).
And then there was Lillard.
When asked about a stretch that felt similar to Lillard’s current tear, Conley thought back to Gilbert Arenas during the 2006-2007 season.
“He was scoring like 60 every night it felt like,” Conley said.
Arenas scored 50 three times in a span of 30 days. Lillard has scored 50 three times in the span of two weeks — and had games of 48 and 47 in between those. Lillard joined James Harden and Kobe Bryant as the only players to score at least 293 points over a six-game span in the last 20 years, per Elias Sports.
“He's doing something historic,” Conley said. “It's hard to match that when a guy is making shots like that. But, you know, that's why our communication and our defensive mindset has to be at a whole nother level.”
It wasn’t on Saturday. And the Jazz became just another scorched team in Lillard’s historic path.