In a Nutshell
The Blazers do everything but rebound to hang close with Chicago through three and then LaMarcus Aldridge pounds the Bulls into submission in the fourth as the Blazers walk away with am energetic, celebratory win.
Chicago brought their sexy-as-granny-panties game to Portland tonight, likely expecting a slow-paced, grinding affair in which their superior defense and depth would tell. The Blazers responded by going commando, letting it all hang out from the opening tip. Portland sped up the pace, looking for outright breaks and early offense. Drivers drove, shooters shot, and Andre Miller orchestrated the offense like a maestro, mixing driving, shooting, and passing. Every Blazer who touched the ball in the first quarter was gold, as Portland shot 79% in the period. On the other end of the floor the Bulls had trouble holding onto the ball. Some nifty Nicolas Batum play helped get Luol Deng in early foul trouble, LaMarcus Aldridge was all over the floor defensively, helping hold down Carlos Boozer. That left the speedy Derrick Rose as Chicago's only viable option. Rose played well, confounding Portland's defenders with the dribble. The Bulls also feasted on offensive rebounds, aided by Portland's lack of big men and the same Aldridge mobility that otherwise benefited the Blazers. It almost evened out as the score was 28-26 Portland after one. Knowledgeable observers will know that was a clear Blazer victory by score total alone, as Chicago would have been more comfortable at 18-16.
The Blazers laid even more of their cards on the table in the second period. Normally this is where I'd be describing Portland's bench getting outplayed by the opponent and giving back whatever lead the starters built. The Blazers have a few days off after tonight. Except for Rudy Fernandez, they just didn't play the bench guys. The move paid off as Miller, Aldridge, Fernandez, Batum, and Matthews kept the pressure up on both ends. Aldridge consistently beat his man down the floor on offense, either leading to a direct easy bucket or the defense having to commit down low followed by an easy weak-side shot or drive for one of the smalls. This brought on even more Chicago fouls, more lineup shuffling, and most importantly more easy points for Portland at the foul line. Chicago's turnovers continued balanced out by their dominance of the offensive boards. The scoring sloughed off compared to the first period--the obvious cause being that nobody was shooting 79% for two periods in a row--but remained relatively high compared to expectations. The teams were tied at 50 in the half.
The Blazers took a strong lead early in the third behind some inspired play by Aldridge and Miller. Andre's jumper looked sure tonight and his passes were accurate, making him a tough cover and keeping Rose diverted at least momentarily. LaMarcus was just a beast, scoring on post moves and pick-and-pop jumpers with equal abandon. The Bulls scored on Portland's occasional defensive mistakes but" occasional" is the key word there. The Blazers made a conscious decision to play against Carlos Boozer's post moves and Rose's drives, collapsing on the ball whenever either threatened. This left corner threes open on either side, a shot the Blazers had no prayer of covering. Had the Bulls hit one or two of those shots this game might have turned out differently but they missed them all, making Portland's defensive gamble come up cherry-cherry-cherry. Portland built the lead to 69-60 with 4:00 left. Unfortunately the Blazers couldn't play all of their starters 48 minutes. The front line started to flag late in the period and when the bench came in to replace them the Bulls made up almost all of the hard-earned lead in 90 seconds. Portland led going into the 4th, but it was only 75-72.
The beginning of the fourth period looked like trouble for the Blazers. For a few minutes the game slowed down to the once-expected pace and Chicago began extracting payment for all of the easies and open shots the Blazers had been getting by pouring in their own. Meanwhile the molasses tempo put the chill on Portland's own easy attempts, as the Blazers lacked the individual prowess of Chicago's stars. A Ronnie Brewer dunk at 7:20 and a Derrick Rose layup at 6:20 brought the Bulls within a single point twice. The latter seemed to be a wake-up call for the Blazers, signalling they were going to lose unless they rediscovered the spark. Fernandez was the initial match, as he hit a shot and then drew 3 free throws after faking Rose into the air for some silly three-point shot defense. Then Rudy's flicker hit the enormous log that is LaMarcus Aldridge's 2010-11 season. Aldridge began running again and punished the Bulls with every trip down the floor. Jumper-free throw-free throw-alley oop-jumper-post move-oh please stop hurting us LaMarcus! But the Bulls must have been really bad because LMA spanked 'em and spanked 'em and spanked 'em. Rose and Deng did a credible job of attempting the same on the other end but every time they'd take a swing somebody (often Aldridge himself) would come up with a great defensive play or key rebound and whip them right back around over Aldridge's knee again. Plus the Blazers righted that whole rebounding problem. When the smoke cleared Aldridge had a new career high, Miller had his season high, Fernandez had his third straight excellent game, the starters all had quite a lather, and the Blazers had an amazingly convincing 109 point against one of the best defenses in the NBA. 109-103 Portland, San Antonio celebration redux.
Portland's game plan was brilliant tonight. They went for early offense, used Aldridge for speed instead of rebounding, shared the ball, hit their shots, hit their free throws, and made life easy for themselves in almost every area. They took advantage of relative speed while minimizing the damage from relative bulk and talent. The starters also bought in to the defense to a man. They couldn't stop everything but they stopped what they wanted and lived with the rest. It was a textbook example of how to challenge the Bulls. It was also the first time all season we've seen the plan executed that consistently--particularly the pace--for so many minutes.
You have to start with LaMarcus Aldridge's 42 points, 15-23 shooting, 12-14 foul shooting, and 8 rebounds. Plus he played mobile defense. And Carlos Boozer scored 17 and couldn't do a thing to contain LMA inside or out. It was a complete smashing, as if Batman, the Green Hornet, and the Watchmen teamed up to fight Aquaman. Except Aldridge was clearly playing with a "porpoise" tonight and wouldn't be stopped. If the 8 rebounds seems low on a night when Chicago feasted on the offensive glass, forget it. Count the number of dunks and deep-post-positions plus the number of times LMA put pressure on Chicago's defense by getting down the floor first.
Andre Miller orchestrated a superb game. You can't up the tempo without some pretty good point-guarding and there was no doubt Miller could handle it. His 7-11 clip from the floor was probably the least impressive aspect of his night. He went 13-13 from the foul line, dished 11 assists, and had 4 steals to go with his 27 points. Yes, Derrick Rose scored 36 but he took 27 shots to do it. That means Rose got 1.33 points per shot attempted while Miller got 2.45. Plus Miller doubled Rose's assists and sextupled Rose's rebounding total. He was everything the Blazers needed tonight.
Rudy Fernandez also deserves some major-league credit for yet another energetic contribution. As the only guy with significant minutes off the pine, he pretty much saved the starters' bacon, alternately spelling Miller, Matthews, and Batum. He poked away a couple steals, dished a couple of assists, and most importantly drew 9 foul shots, hitting 8, and shot 2-3 from the arc en route to 18 points. I have been as critical of Fernandez as anyone (or at least anyone reasonable) but it's been a pleasure to see him work the last few games, especially against a quality defensive opponent tonight.
Nicolas Batum helped get the Blazers off to a great start by stroking some shots and making Luol Deng play defense. He helped cover defensive space the rest of the game but ceded the offense to the three players mentioned above. He ended up 4-8 for 12 points with 5 rebounds and 3 assists.
Wesley Matthews had a rough shooting night, going 3-12. Then again, he was the fourth option on offense and often got stuck with tough shots in the teeth of Chicago's "D". Like Batum, his contributions were reflected best by the flexible and mobile Portland defense. Chicago's picks weren't nearly as effective as they wanted in part because Portland's smalls are so interchangeable on defense. Matthews helped make the Bulls work for their shots.
Joel Przybilla had 6 rebounds in 23 minutes and even got in a couple of "nice to meet you" hard hacks in the lane. He can't jump yet but he can still chop.
Sean Marks, Patty Mills, and Luke Babbitt were the only other boxscore names, combining for 13 minutes of time that was largely forgettable outside of a nice Marks jumper at the top of the key. Nobody wanted to see the Blazer bench tonight except Chicago.
Stats of the Night
- Blazers 18 fast break points, Chicago 4
- Blazers 51.5% shooting
- Blazers 40 foul shots and 37 makes for a 92.5% clip. Chicago attempted 18 foul shots, hitting 11. That's +26 for Portland at the line. Fast beats big.
- Chicago 17 offensive rebounds but only 16 assists.
- Blazers 109 points...that's worth repeating. 109 against the Bulls
Odd Notes and Links
Despite the bad grammar you have to get credit to the young lady in the stands who held up the sign, "Hey Nicolas, I'm not French but I sure kiss like one." I'm not sure if that's enticing or somewhat gross but it's certainly direct.
Oh, and the Blazers Broadcasting crew (in addition to calling the game excellently tonight) were all over Brandon Roy and Marcus Camby returning this weekend.
Blog a Bull will not like this at all. Even less if they read that "Granny Panties" thing I wrote above. They swear over there too.