Utah Jazz forward John Collins, left, defends against Portland Trail Blazers forward Jerami Grant (9) as he drives during the first half of an NBA basketball in-season tournament game, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Jordan Clarkson scored 30 points and Lauri Markkanen added 21 points and nine rebounds, leading the Utah Jazz to a 115-99 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in an NBA In-Season Tournament game on Tuesday night.
John Collins had 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Jazz. Kelly Olynyk finished with 12 points and a season-high 12 rebounds. Keyonte George added 15 points and Collin Sexton 13. George and Sexton each had seven assists.
Utah won its second straight tournament game, while Portland, which dropped its fourth straight overall, slipped to 1-1 in West Group A play.
Tenacious defense opened a door to consecutive victories for the Jazz. Utah forced a season-high 11 steals and routinely disrupted the Blazers’ offensive rhythm at key moments throughout the game.
“We’re trying to be more active as a group,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said. “We’re trying to lean into our speed. Be a little bit more proactive on that end and I think it’s been very good for us.”
Jerami Grant led Portland with 26 points. Deandre Ayton added 22 points and 10 rebounds and Shaedon Sharpe finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Skylar Mays had a game-high 10 assists.
Clarkson gave Utah an early spark with his shooting. He started 6 for 6 from the floor and scored 14 points in the first quarter. Clarkson capped a 10-2 run with a steal and dunk – his final basket in the opening period — to give the Jazz a 29-19 lead.
Utah did not commit a turnover in the game’s first 15 minutes. Portland struggled to hold onto the ball, and its sloppiness was costly. The Jazz scored 16 points off 12 Portland turnovers in the first half.
“We’ve got to take care of the ball,” Grant said. “With a lot of new people in the rotation, we’re trying to figure each other out.”
Taking care of the ball gave Utah plenty of offensive momentum. The Jazz opened the second quarter by scoring baskets on four straight possessions, punctuated by a 3-pointer from Olynyk off a steal that extended Utah’s lead to 45-31.
Portland chipped away at the deficit throughout the third quarter behind steady shooting from Grant and Ayton. The duo combined for nine baskets and cut Utah’s lead to 87-84 late in the quarter. Each time the Trail Blazers threatened to overtake the Jazz, Clarkson countered with timely baskets to keep Utah a step ahead.
“We were decisive with everything — shoot, pass, dribble,” Clarkson said. “That was a big thing with us tonight. Everybody made their decisions quick.”
The Jazz ended Portland’s comeback hopes in the fourth quarter. Markkanen scored three baskets to fuel a decisive 13-0 run that put Utah ahead 108-93 with 5:40 remaining.
“We were stuck on 93 for I don’t know how long,” Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said. “We created some decent shots, not great, but decent. We just couldn’t make shots and we seem to have those kind of stretches.”
Utah held an opponent under 100 points for the first time under Hardy, ending a streak of 92 games, dating to April, 2022. The accomplishment offered a step forward for a defense that’s been beleaguered at times early in the season.
“We should do that more often,” joked Markkanen, who had his sixth straight 20-point game.
Trail Blazers: Host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night.
Jazz: Host the Phoenix Suns on Friday in another tournament game.