Mere average lillard still plenty to knock off the Jazz

Saturday , April 12, 2014 - 6:05 PM

Portland Trail Blazers' Damian lillard, right, lays up the ball as Utah Jazz's Derrick Favors, left...

Jim Burton, Standard-Examiner Staff

Much to the delight of Utah Jazz faithful, coach Tyrone Corbin started his Fresh Five for Friday night’s game with the Portland Trail Blazers.

They looked pretty good but still lost, 111-99.

Blazers coach Terry Stotts, meanwhile, started Damian Lillard for the 80th time this season.

He didn’t look too hot through the first three quarters but, oh man, he looked great when it counted, hitting four 3-pointers and scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter.

Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors may yet turn out to be fabulously fine in the future. However, if any one of them could rise to Lillard’s level, look out!

All alliterations aside, with Utah’s future on full display for the first time all season, Lillard stole the final scene and proved why he isn’t just the future of the Trail Blazers, he’s the future of the entire league.

“I think he’s really grown as far as (being) a leader on the court,” Stotts said of Lillard, who finished with 16 points on 4-for-10 shooting from the field. “Last year he just willed himself through the season. It was learning on the job. This year he’s much more comfortable with his team and with the NBA. I think you see his leadership abilities on the court, particularly.”

Go back and look at Lillard’s starts for the night and you’ll see they weren’t particularly good. And yet they somehow don’t fully reflect what he did in the fourth quarter, when the Jazz’s young guys were threatening and his team needed him to step up.

Through the first three quarters he was 0-for-4 from the field and 0-for-1 from behind the 3-point arc.

But in the fourth quarter he got four-alarm hot, hitting 4-of-6 from the field, 4-of-5 from long range.

“Late down the stretch I just got a little more aggressive,” he said, shrugging off praise for doing anything extraordinary.

That aggression, he said, was all part of the natural flow of the game, nothing more.

“The first one that I made felt good,” he said. “From there on I just started to get it going a little bit.”

Former Jazzman Wesley Matthews, now a teammate of Lillard’s in Portland, said he wasn’t surprised by the fourth quarter show, even when Lillard had missed his first four shots.

“I knew it was a matter of time,” Matthews said. “You watch him and as soon as (the ball) leaves (his hand), I put my hands up. I knew it was good when he shot. I was laughing, walking back because I knew it was going in. He’s a real life microwave.”

Indeed, he heats up fast. He’s also versatile and oh-so-useful.

It’s interesting to note that before and after the game, Stotts mentioned Lillard’s leadership skills.

Matthews mentioned them too.

“He’s more of a lead-by-example type of guy,” he said.

And now let’s turn it back to Utah’s young guys. There’s already pressure on them going forward. This season isn’t lost, it’s all part of the plan. The team took its lumps and rode them out to a dismal 24-55 record.

The Jazz will get the high draft pick they’re looking for and they’ll also have some money to throw around in free agency, which is all part of the plan.

In the meantime, here’s hoping their Fresh Five were looking at Lillard

Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at jburton@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter @StandardExJimbo

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