Lillard, Nurkic's big 3rd send Blazers past Jazz, 109-104
By MATTHEW COLES
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Jusuf Nurkic had heard enough.
Rudy Gobert chirped after blocking his shot and Jae Crowder got in his face. But in the third quarter, Nurkic tuned out all that noise and put the Portland Trail Blazers in position to beat the Utah Jazz 109-104 on Monday night.
"They started talking a little bit too much," Nurkic said. "But I'm too busy to have all those conversations."
Damian Lillard scored 26 points and hit key shots down the stretch, but Nurkic's 17-point, four-block third quarter was the talk of the Portland locker room after the game.
"He was huge. They blocked a few of his shots but we just kept giving it to him in the paint and he figured it out. He got his timing down and getting into Rudy's body. He started rolling," Lillard said.
In a matchup between two of the NBA's hottest teams, the Blazers made 50 percent of their shots and piled up 30 assists to snap Utah's six-game winning streak.
Nurkic finished with 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. He also tied a career high with six blocks. CJ McCollum added 14 points for Portland, which has won seven of nine.
At halftime, Lillard reminded Nurkic to forget the first half. The big man watched some video clips and came out with a renewed determination.
"I'm growing up here in Portland and I realize that every quarter is new and gives you another chance," Nurkic said.
Meyers Leonard's second 3-pointer of the fourth quarter capped a 10-2 burst, all without Lillard on the court, to give the Blazers a 96-88 lead. On the other end, the Jazz missed open shot after open shot, helping Portland take command.
Donovan Mitchell continued his high-scoring streak with 36 points for Utah. Crowder added 15 and Gobert had 10 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks.
Lillard came back in and drained a 3 for a 101-90 advantage. Mitchell desperately tried to will the Jazz back with a variety of drives and shots in the lane, but no one else could score for Utah.
"We can't wait till the fourth quarter to kind of fight and come back. We've got to be locked in from the beginning," Mitchell said.
McCollum gave Portland its biggest lead at 106-94 with 2:45 remaining. Mitchell's free throws brought the Jazz to 108-104, but after Gobert's block Joe Ingles missed a wide-open corner 3, Utah's seventh straight miss from long distance down the stretch.
"We can't rely, sometimes, on being 3-point happy," Mitchell said.
Nurkic scored 17 points in the third quarter against Utah's frontline, which has anchored the toughest defense in the league over the past 10 games. His layup, three-point play and tip-in - a personal 7-0 run - gave the Blazers an 80-75 edge late in the period.
"We leave the roll open for a spilt second and they found him. We were late on those rotations in the third quarter and it cost us," Crowder said.
Portland's 30 assists marked the 10th time in the last 12 games the Blazers have recorded at least 25. They are 14-3 this season when they finish with 25 or more.
Trail Blazers: The first nine Portland baskets were points in the paint. Conversely, the Blazers went more than eight minutes in the second quarter without an inside basket. ... Evan Turner got a technical for his reaction to a foul by Ricky Rubio in the second quarter. ... Portland shot 7 for 13 in the second half from 3-point range after shooting just 1 of 5 in the first half.
Jazz: Crowder got a technical after mixing it up with Nurkic in the third quarter. Gobert was whistled for another technical less than two minutes later. ... Gobert is tied with Joel Embiid for the NBA lead with 39 double-doubles and has posted one in eight consecutive games. ... Mitchell is averaging nearly 30 points over the last nine games.
BREAKING DOWN UTAH
Portland scored 60 points in the paint against Gobert and the defensive-minded Jazz.
"In the past they have affected us because we just know that Rudy Gobert is there and Derrick Favors is there and sometimes we sped up and sometimes we rushed it and missed shots," Lillard said. "But tonight we delivered the passes and focused on finishing no matter who was around."
Rubio, who had been out since straining his hamstring in the first quarter against Milwaukee on Jan.7, returned to the court and it was none too soon for the Jazz. Besides Rubio, Dante Exum and Raul Neto have also been injured, forcing Mitchell to play the point.
Even though Utah won all six games Rubio missed, coach Quin Snyder said before the game: "There's just so many things that are subtle that he does on the floor. On-the-ball defense, probably since the early part of the year, has been one of the things (where) he's been solid. ... It's great to have him back. He's a competitor and we missed him."
Rubio, who was on a medical minutes restriction, scored 12 points in 14 minutes.
"Sometimes, it's frustrating. Tonight, I wish I would have played more minutes. But I know this is a marathon," he said.
Blazers: Visit the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday.
Jazz: Host the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday.
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports
Updated January 22, 2019