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No Lillard, no problem for Portland as Simons shoots Blazers to win over Jazz


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SALT LAKE CITY — The Portland Trail Blazers didn't have Damian Lillard on Saturday in Utah. They had Anfernee Simons, though, and that was just as good.

Simons scored a career-high 45 points, including the game's decisive free throws with 29.2 seconds left to lift Portland to a 116-111 victory over the Jazz at Vivint Arena.

For Utah, it was a game that ended in frustration.

Will Hardy got his first technical of his young coaching career as he argued an obvious missed foul on Jordan Clarkson at the rim (the Jazz shooting guard had his arm hammered as he went up), and the Jazz as a whole probably had some gripes late in the game, too.

Simons' two free throws with under a minute remaining came as a result of a blocking foul on Clarkson. On the next Utah possession, Lauri Markkanen didn't get the same benefit of a whistle when he was sent out of bounds by the Blazers.

Utah's final chance to extend the game ended when Clarkson had his 3-point attempt stripped by Simons.

For the Jazz, though, it was the first half that cost them the game against the Trail Blazers; that's when they let Simons go off.

Simons had 23 points in the first quarter and 33 points by halftime, and the Blazers jumped out to a 15-point lead.

"Twenty-three points in the first quarter is insane," Clarkson said.

Especially the way he was doing it. Simons was 8-of-10 from the field and 5-of-7 from 3-point range in the first 12 minutes. He was on a heater the Jazz couldn't come close to containing.

Hardy took a glance at the turnovers the Jazz caused in the first half (just three) and knew immediately the aggressiveness wasn't where it was supposed to be. The Jazz let Simons get comfortable and once he found his rhythm Utah was in trouble.

"He's a very, very elite scorer who can really score in bunches," Hardy said. "... If you let a great scorer like that see three or four go in, you can be at his mercy. There were for sure five or six shots that he made where you just shake his hand and say, 'Hey, man, you're pretty good.' But the ones early helped him get into his rhythm."

After Simons' career half, the Jazz were forced to play uphill. To their credit, they got back into the game.

"The second half we kind of got more aggressive," said Clarkson, who finished with 24 points.

But it wasn't enough in the end.

Markkanen had 21 points on 4-of-10 shooting and Collin Sexton finished with 19 points. The Jazz had five players score 15 or more points, but a cold spell late in the fourth quarter hurt their chances at a home win.

"We got some really good looks for our bench, and they just didn't go, but that's life in the NBA," Hardy said. "You have to come out from the very beginning and try to set the tone."

Still, a Kelly Olynyk jumper with just over a minute left to play put the Jazz up by a point. But a couple turnovers and a critical foul in the final minute allowed the Blazers to go on a 6-0 run to end the game and leave Salt Lake City with a win.

"Fought through it," Clarkson said of the slow start, "Just didn't finish the game."

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