A near-perfect start: Jazz open season by routing Trail Blazers

Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley, left, shoots as Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Steve Dipaola)

(AP Photo/Steve Dipaola)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — Early on in training camp, with August's playoff collapse still relatively fresh, Donovan MItchell had a message for his team.

"There's no time for slow starts," Mitchell said.

The shortened offseason, the strange start date, the pandemic still swirling around them — all just excuses. The Jazz, Mitchell said, needed to "come out ready to go."

If the first game is any indication, the Jazz are ready — and then some.

Utah opened up the 2020-21 season with a convincing 120-100 win over the Trail Blazers at Moda Center in Portland Wednesday.

Mitchell scored 20 points and had five assists, while Rudy Gobert added 20 points and 17 rebounds as Utah's two newly extended stars began the year in All-Star form.

But they were far from alone. Utah hit 13-of-28 from three in the first half, matching a franchise record for most made threes in a single half. That's a record that might last until … next game?

Utah's new emphasis in shooting deep early and often was on full display as the team let it fly from the outside whenever an opening was there. The Jazz finished 19-of-50 for the game from three.

"It is one game, and we have a lot more," Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. "I think the biggest thing for us is to continue to carve an identity and to play the same way to get the ball off the court quickly and to defend."

For most years under Snyder, the Jazz have been known as an elite defensive club with a pedestrian offense. That seems to be changing. Utah is stocked full of offensive weapons — Mitchell and Gobert led the Jazz with just 20 points each, and Utah still put up 120 total points. This team can score in bunches. Mike Conley had18 points, Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson both had 15, and Joe Ingles finished with 14. Utah had seven players reach double figures.

It's a lethal offense — and one Utah thinks it can combine with an elite defense. For one night, the Jazz did just that.

In the first half, as the Jazz were pouring it in, Portland star Damian Lillard was silenced. The former Weber State guard who has caused Utah massive headaches in the past was held scoreless in the first two quarters, helping the Jazz to a 65-44 lead at halftime.

"He's terrific and he's entitled to a tough night," Snyder said of Lillard, who finished with just 9 points. "He's had so many big nights against us, and sometimes the law of averages catches up to you."

Or maybe the Jazz defense had something to do with it, too. The Jazz often sent help Lillard's way making him give up the ball and trusting their rotations. It worked.

"He's an amazing player, so we had to make sure he didn't get anything easy," Gobert said. "We tried to make him uncomfortable. ... I think we did a great job as a team trying to make sure that he wasn't able to get into a good rhythm."

In the second half, Portland was forced to try and take away the Jazz's 3-point shot, but that just allowed Utah to show off its diverse offense. In the third quarter, space opened up for Gobert and Derrick Favors to go to work inside.

Gobert got 12 of his 20 points in the third quarter, and Favors had a run where he scored on three straight possessions around the basket. That all led to insurmountable advantage.

"It's fun to be a part of. And as long as we get good shots, it's great offense," Gobert said.

It was great for one game. On Saturday, when the Jazz play their home opener against Minnesota, they'll try to make it two.

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Ryan Miller has covered the Utah Jazz for KSL.com since 2018.

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