The last game of the NBA Christmas Day slate between the Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers turned out to be a bit anti-climactic. Leading by 12 at halftime, the Jazz never relented and pulled away for a 117-96 win over their Northwest Division rivals.
As expected, the two backcourt stars, Damian Lillard and Donovan Mitchell, showed up; Lillard finished with 20 points to lead the Blazers, while Mitchell put up 19 for the Jazz. The difference was that Utah's supporting cast showed up, while Portland's did not. Seven players scored in double figures for the Jazz in the win.
More so than perhaps any other game on Christmas, this was an important one in terms of playoff positioning -- even if it's only late December. Stuck down in 11th place -- but less than four games out of a top-four seed -- in the crowded Western Conference, the Jazz needed this win in a big way against another team fighting for playoff positioning.
Here are five takeaways from Utah's big win:
The Stifle Tower
Rudy Gobert is among the league leaders is blocks per game, and he showed why against the Trail Blazers. He was a shot-blocking machine in this game, finishing with a season-high seven rejections. His presence inside was a big factor in the Trail Blazers' poor shooting, as they went just 35-of-89 from the field on the night. Gobert's seven blocks were just one shy of DeAndre Jordan's Christmas Day record of eight.
Where were the other Blazers?
Damian Lillard showed up for this game, leading the way as he has all season long. Though he wasn't at his most efficient, Lillard finished with 20 points, five rebounds and four assists. That wasn't enough though, as the rest of the team didn't show up. No one else scored more than 12 points, and CJ McCollum was especially disappointing. Lillard's backcourt mate put up just 11 points on 4-of-11 from the field.
Lillard vs. Mitchell
It was easy to bill this game as a duel between two of the most exciting guards in the Western Conference, Damian Lillard and Donovan Mitchell. Things don't always work out as we expect, but on this night they pretty much did, as both of them played well. It wasn't some unforgettable showdown, but Lillard went for 20 points to lead the Blazers, while Mitchell had 19 of his own to pace the Jazz.
Balanced Jazz effort
The Jazz don't really have a true star -- though that could depend on how you define that term, or how highly you rate Rudy Gobert or Donovan Mitchell. Either way, they often need to operate as a unit, rather than relying on one or two players. In this win, they did just that. Led by 19 points from Mitchell and 18 from Gobert, seven different players scored in double figures.
Big plays on Christmas
While the game itself wasn't in doubt for much of the way in the second half, we did at least get a number of big highlights. First, Mitchell started off the game with an incredible alley-oop -- one of the best you'll see this season.
Then, there was Mo Harkless' slashing dunk past a late-arriving Gobert.
Finally, Gobert threw down a massive alley-oop of his own to close out the show.