Feisty Jazz Break Century Mark Drought Against Trail Blazers

Nov 14, 2023, 10:55 PM | Updated: Nov 15, 2023, 11:51 am

SALT LAKE CITY – For the first time in 92 games, the Utah Jazz held an opponent below the century mark on defense, beating the Portland Trail Blazers 115-99.

Fueled by 30 points from Jordan Clarkson, the Jazz moved to 2-0 in In-Season Tournament play, and have their first winning streak of the season.

Jerami Grant scored 26 points for Trail Blazers who sit at 1-1 in group play after their loss to the Jazz.

Jazz Stealing Possessions To Improve Defense

With the Jazz struggling to get stops defensively this season, head coach Will Hardy has challenged the team’s perimeter players to force more turnovers, and over the last two games, it’s been a huge success.

The Jazz have recorded 21 steals in their last eight quarters, and have turned those takeaways into 47 easy points, including 23 against the Trail Blazers.

“We’re trying to be more active as a group,” Hardy said after the win. “We’re trying to lean into our speed, be a little bit more proactive on that end and I think it’s been it’s been very good for us.”

Clarkson leads the Jazz over the last two games with four steals, while Ochai Agbaji, Lauri Markkanen, and Collin Sexton have three each.

“Defense is all about making people uncomfortable,” Clarkson said. “It lets us just be a little bit more aggressive on the ball, and I just think we’ve done a good job causing chaos on that side.”

This is the fourth time in the Hardy era that the Jazz have recorded 21 steals over a two-game stretch, a relatively rare feat during Quin Snyder’s run as head coach.

With Rudy Gobert roaming the paint, Snyder didn’t ask the Jazz perimeter players to gamble as often in passing lanes to create turnovers, preferring to funnel the opposing team’s ballhandlers into the three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

With a shot-blocking specialist like Walker Kessler filling the paint for the Jazz for the foreseeable future, Hardy could opt to utilize a similar strategy, but mentioned he likes the team’s newfound aggression, especially after holding an opponent below 100 for the first time in his career.

“To see double digits on the scoreboard, I might actually sleep tonight.”

How Do Jazz Feel About Keyonte George’s Shooting?

After a difficult 2-12 shooting performance in Memphis, rookie Keyonte George had an improved 4-9 outing against the Trail Blazers, but connected on just 2-7 from the three-point line.

George is now shooting 26 percent from three over his last five games, not an unplayable number, but far below standard for a starting NBA point guard.

Despite his recent struggles, the Jazz have confidence that George’s shooting will improve.

“We’re in the gym with Keyonte every day and we’ve seen his ability to shoot the ball,” Hardy said. “That’s not really any concern of ours right now.”

George’s struggles aren’t atypical for a rookie as many first-year players need time to stretch their shooting to NBA three-point range.

Currently, nine players selected ahead of George in the 2023 draft are currently shooting below 30 percent from the three-point line, including six selected in the top 10.

George, to his credit, is still slightly above the 30 percent mark, and has maintained a shooter’s mentality early in his career.

“We’re always talking about short-term memory, next shot, next shot,” George said. “Going 2-12 in Memphis I felt like all the shots I was taking were taking the right ones, and I think today I came in and did the same thing.”

Despite another difficult three-point shooting night. the Baylor product scored a career-high 15 points against the Trail Blazers while dishing out a team-high seven assists, drawing the praise of his head coach.

“I think if he continues to shoot when appropriate and pass when appropriate, the percentages are for sure going come back in his favor.”

Nightly Awards: Jazz Vs. Trail Blazers

The “That Was A Quiet Double-Double” Award:

Goes to DeAndre Ayton who had his first 20-point, 10-rebound double-double as a member of the Trail Blazers and it was barely noticeable.

Ayton has a ton of natural talent and at times he showed how easily he can score inside the paint against smaller Jazz defenders.

Then, there are long stretches where he disappears completely or prefers to shoot fading away from the rim rather than going through his defender’s chest.

If Portland wants him to be a key piece of their future, he needs to rely more heavily on his toughness, and less on his natural ability alone.

The “Oh That’s Why You’re A Professional Coach” Award:

Goes to Jazz legend Gordie Chiesa whom I spoke to before the game about many things, including the play of second-year forward Ochai Agbaji.

The former Jerry Sloan assistant was complimentary of Agbaji’s game, but mentioned how he’d benefit from more free-throw attempts after earning just two freebies in his first 10 games this season.

Chiesa said the easiest way to earn free throws is to crash the offensive glass and draw a foul on the putback.

Sure enough, in the first three minutes of the game, Agbaji grabbed three offensive boards, and on his final rebound, was fouled, and knocked down his only two free throws of the game.

Next Broadcast

The Jazz will face the Phoenix Suns on Friday at 8 pm MST in Salt Lake City in another In-Season tournament game. The game will be televised on ESPN and can be heard on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone.

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Ben Anderson is the Utah Jazz insider for KSL Sports and the co-host of Jake and Ben from 10-12p with Jake Scott on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. Find Ben on Twitter at @BensHoops or on Instagram @BensHoops.

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Feisty Jazz Break Century Mark Drought Against Trail Blazers