SALT LAKE CITY — The Trail Blazers finished their 2013-14 road schedule Friday night in Salt Lake City with a 111-99 victory versus the Utah Jazz in front of a crowd of 19,248 at Energy Solutions Arena.
“It’s good to get a win here,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, who moved to 200 career coaching victories Friday night. “We were disappointed with our defense in the first quarter but I thought we really turned it around in the second and third quarter, defensively. That’s how we need to continue to play. But this place is always a tough place to play. Utah plays hard every time, so it was a quality win for us.”
Portland finishes the regular season with a 23-18 record away from the Moda Center, which is tied for the sixth-best road record in franchise history. With the win, the Trail Blazers sweep the Jazz 4-0 for the first time in franchise history and move to an NBA-best 13-3 in division this season.
“Any time you can sweep a series, it’s good,” said Wesley Matthews, who played his rookie season with the Jazz. “It sets a benchmark and it also sets a tone for seasons to come. The next season, it’s something you remember.”
The win, coupled with a Houston Rockets loss earlier in the night to the Timberwolves, brings the Trail Blazers to within a half game of the fourth seed and the home court advantage in the first round that comes with it. Portland has two games left to play, while Houston has three games remaining.
For a while, it looked like the Trail Blazers might join the Rockets in losing to a team already eliminated for playoff contention. After the teams mostly traded baskets for the first nine minutes of Friday night’s game, the Jazz went on a 14-2 run to end the first quarter and take a 31-23 lead into the second.
But Portland, as they’ve done often times this season, were able to get back into the game thanks to their three-point shooting. Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Mo Williams would combine to go 4 of 9 from three in the second to help Portland outscore Utah 30-20 in the quarter to take a two-point lead into the half. Matthews was particuarly effective late in the quarter, scoring 10 points in the final three minutes of the first half.
‘They put up a fight, as we knew they were going to,” said Matthews. “This is always been a tough place to play. I’m still mad I missed a lot of easy ones still.”
The third quarter was another back-and-forth battle, with neither team able to take a put any meaningful distance between themselves and their opponent. Portland would shoot eight free throws, making seven, in the quarter to just three for Utah, but the Jazz made two three-pointers while the Blazers missed both of their attempts. The end result was a 76-76 tie game going into the final quarter.
But then, it was Lillard Time. After scoring just two points and missing all four of his attempts from the field in the first three quarters, Lillard, playing in front of a considerable number of Weber State fans, hit three three-pointers in a three minute span early in the fourth to lift Portland to a 96-85 lead with 6:28 to play in regulation.
“The first (shot in the fourth quarter) felt real good,” said Lillard. “Once that one felt good, I said, ‘If I get another clean look, I’m going to raise up again,’ and I happened to get a couple more and I hit a couple in a row. I’m just happy it came at a time when we needed it.”
Lillard would finish the quarter with 14 points on 4 of 5 shooting from beyond the arc. The second-year point guard now has 463 fourth-quarter points this season, which is second only to Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant.
“Those threes really turned the momentum of the game,” said Stotts. “I don’t think LA was in the game — we had a shooting lineup in. Dame just took it on himself to make something happen.”
After Lillard’s scoring outburst, the Trail Blazes were able to once again trade baskets with the Jazz before turning the game over to the bench with just over a minute to play to cruise to a 12-point victory.
Portland got double-digit scoring nights from all five of their starters, with Matthews leading the way with 21 points on on 6 of 14 shooting.
LaMarcus Aldridge finished with a double-double of 18 points and 14 rebounds to go along with two assists in 34 minutes. Batum turned in a yeoman effort with
15 points, seven assists, seven rebounds, two steals and a block in 35 minutes. Robin Lopez took 13 shots and finished the game with 12 points and eight rebounds in 35 minutes.
Portland’s second unit also did their fair share of scoring Friday night. Led by eight-point performances by both Thomas Robinson and Will Barton, Portland’s bench finished the game with 29 points on 11 of 20 shooting.
“The bench has been solid,” said Stotts. “T-Rob, Dorell had good minutes, Will, Mo, we’re kind of sticking with that rotation. I thought they all had quality minutes and did the things we needed them to do.”
Portland now has 52 wins on the season with two game to play and are 7-1 since Aldridge returned to the lineup after missing seven games with a lower back contusion.
“I think we’re coming together at the right time,” said Stotts. “We’ve won seven out of eight, defensively we’ve been locked in, I think our offense is starting to come around again like it was earlier. I think we’re all looking forward to the playoffs and once you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen.
But before that, the Trail Blazers head home to host the Warriors in their penultimate game of the regular season. A win would assure that the Trail Blazers would finish no worse than the fifth seed in the West.
“We just got to stay focused and finish the right way,” said Lillard. “The good thing is that we’re in the playoffs, and we got a couple of big games coming up that could determine a few changes in the seeding. We just got to stay locked in on one game at a time and end the season off the right way.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 6 PM.