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Jazz respond late to beat Blazers and take over top record in West


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SALT LAKE CITY — Things weren't trending right for the Utah Jazz on Saturday in Portland.

Mike Conley, the team's calming force, was out after hyperextending his knee early in the second half, and Utah's 10-point fourth quarter lead was gone.

If there were signs of trouble, they sure didn't faze Jordan Clarkson. He scored 15 points in the fourth quarter, including 8 in the final two minutes, to push the Jazz to a 118-113 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

With the win, the Jazz improved to 12-6 on the season and are back at the top of the Western Conference standings.

Conley went down early in the third quarter when he tried to fight around a screen. His left knee hyperextended and he fell to the floor; he didn't return to the game.

"When Mike went down, we told him we have to get this one for him," Malik Beasley said. "He does so much for us as a team. We have to make sure we step in and do everything he does and more."

That included some hot shooting from Beasley, who was 10-of-18 for a game-high 29 points. It included some poised playmaking by Talen Horton-Tucker, who was thrust into a whole new role; and it especially included Clarkson steadying the ship down stretch when the Jazz needed it most.

When Beasley hit his sixth 3-pointer with 5:56 left in the game to give Utah a 9-point lead, it looked like the Jazz would soon be coasting to a win — especially with Portland superstar Damian Lillard sitting out the fourth quarter with right calf tightness.

But Dame Time or not, the Blazers came back. An 11-1 run gave the Blazers their first lead of the second half, and Utah appeared to be reeling.

"As all good NBA teams do, they made their run and their home crowd got into it, and they put a lot of pressure on us," Jazz coach Will Hardy said. "And our guys responded and we had a lot of big plays made down the stretch by a lot of people."

Maybe none bigger than the ones made by Clarkson.

In a span of 64 seconds, Clarkson drained a 3-pointer, drove inside for a 3-point play, and then pulled up for mid range jumper in the middle of the paint. By the time the flurry was over, Clarkson had turned a 1-point deficit into a 6-point lead.

"Jordan wanted the ball," Hardy said. "Jordan has made a lot of really good decisions for us closing games."

Hardy pointed to how Clarkson closed Utah's win against Memphis earlier in the season in a game where Conley sat out, so the team knew he could provide if the ball was in his hands late.

"We felt like if we gave Jordan proper spacing that he could make some good decisions and have the ability to attack for himself or for a teammate, depending on what the defense showed him. I really just love the fact that he mixed it up down the stretch," Hardy said.

What made it more impressive? Clarkson was 0-for-5 in the first quarter and was 6-of-17 in the game entering the final period.

"I continued to tell JC, 'Look, you're gonna make the next five shots,'" Beasley recalled. "In the first half he wasn't hitting, so I told him you're gonna make the next five — keep rolling. In the fourth quarter, I think he had like 10 straight, so we trust each other out there as a team no matter who's rolling; we try to get them the ball and try to play off each other."

Clarkson finished with 28 points on the night, and Lauri Markkanen added 23 points for the Jazz in the win.

As for Conley's status going forward, there's some initial optimism after the game that it might not be as bad as it originally looked. Conley underwent an MRI and the team is awaiting the results to know the extent of the injury.

"He's in very good spirits and walking around and very hopeful," Hardy said.

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