SALT LAKE CITY — Joe Ingles was hot early and Donovan Mitchell had it going in the second half. But it took three big plays in the final three minutes by Rudy Gobert for the Utah Jazz to turn back the Portland Trail Blazers.
Mitchell scored 28 of his 35 points in the second half to power the Jazz to a 121-115 win over the Trail Blazers on Thursday night, but it wouldn’t have been possible without a few Gobert gems that won’t jump out of a box score.
“Those hustle plays by Rudy really sealed the game. You can say what you want about my scoring, or Joe, but at the end of the day it came down to Rudy making two big plays. That’s why he is who he is and that’s why we rely on him,” Mitchell said.
Clinging to a two-point lead, Gobert used all of his 7-foot-9 wingspan to dive after a ball that was passing over the baseline and flick it to Bojan Bogdanovic for a 3-pointer from the corner with 1:45 to play.
“That was as good a play, as impactful a play as anybody’s made all year,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said.
Gobert, who had 16 points and 15 rebounds, forced Carmelo Anthony into an air ball with 22.4 seconds remaining and blocked Damon Lillard’s driving shot with 5.2 seconds left to quell the Trail Blazers’ furious fourth-quarter rally.
“Those two guys (Lillard and McCollum) — when they get going, they’re not easy to stop. We knew we were going to need those key stops to win the game,” Gobert said.
Lillard scored 34 points, including a pair of 30-foot contested 3-pointers in the final minutes, and CJ McCollum tallied 17 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter for the Blazers (14-18), who have dropped two straight after winning four in a row.
McCollum, who struggled with his accuracy all night, finally made a jumper to cap a 10-0 Portland spurt to draw within 100-93 with 7:23 to play.
“We came out of the huddle saying, `No worries … keep competing and try and put pressure on them and steal the game.’ I thought we did that. We just came up short,” Lillard said.
Gobert made a basket and a free throw, but McCollum scored five more points in a 7-0 run to trim the lead to 103-102. But Mitchell seemed to have an answer for every improbable Blazer shot down the stretch.
The Jazz (19-12), who have won six of the last seven games, took their largest lead at 86-63 after Gobert’s push shot in the lane. Lillard scored eight straight points but Mitchell wouldn’t let Lillard go on one of his epic runs without a response.
“(Mitchell) was poised. I think he made the right play. Didn’t settle for jump shots. He attacked the rim, drew some fouls, and won us the game on that end,” Gobert said.
Cleveland traded Jordan Clarkson to the Jazz for guard Dante Exum and two future second-round draft picks on Tuesday.
Hours after passing his physical, Clarkson checked in with 4:05 left in first quarter and made a pull-up jumper off the dribble, a minute later. That’s not a shot Jazz fans have seen Exum take. He got nine attempts in his 11-minute stint and scored 9 points but missed all three of shots in the second half.
“He has a hunger about him,” Snyder said.
Exum, the No. 5 overall pick in 2014, didn’t play in his last six games.
KING OF THE RIM PROTECTORS
On Saturday, Hassan Whiteside proclaimed he was the best rim protector in the league and “it wasn’t even close.”
Of course, two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert believes otherwise even though Whiteside leads the league in blocks with 78.
“Rudy takes a lot of pride in being able to defend in a lot of different ways,” Snyder said.
The Jazz made 17 of 22 shots at the rim and 13 of 19 on other shots in the lane. Portland was outscored by 28 points in Whiteside’s 22 minutes on the court.
Trail Blazers: Lillard, who missed all 10 3-point attempts in Monday’s loss to New Orleans, made three 3s by halftime and had 17 points. He made seven 3s by the end of the game… Portland outscored Utah 26-7 in the first 7:20 of the fourth quarter. … Both Anthony and Royce O’Neal committed in-bound fouls in the final 18 seconds resulting in a free throw and the ball.
Jazz: Ingles was so hot to start the game, he let the Trail Blazers know it and was hit with a taunting technical. … Mike Conley missed five games with a sore hamstring. He then re-injured it in his first game back and has missed four more games. … The Jazz waived Jeff Green on Tuesday and signed Rayjon Tucker from the Milwaukee Bucks’ G-League affiliate. Tucker didn’t play Thursday.
The Trail Blazers host the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night.
The Jazz visit the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night.