In a Nutshell
The Blazers come out loose while the Bulls come out expecting to push the accelerator at any time and streak ahead in this game. Chicago pushed the pedal late in the third but the Blazers upped the energy in the fourth, turning around their rebounding and defensive woes. Portland throttles the Bulls who, absent Derrick Rose, have no answer but missed threes.
"Loose" really is the best way to describe Portland's game tonight, at least in the early quarters. The main changes in their attack were going early in the clock and moving more than just the dribbler. Astute observers will mark these characteristics as typical of Portland's early-season play. They'd been lacking during the recent slump. Portland's offense ran on Joel Przybilla picks, Raymond Felton driving into an over-pursuing Chicago defense and then kicking out the ball to open shooters, and Nicolas Batum making jumpers.
Unfortunately "loose" also described Portland's early defense as Chicago scored in the lane, got anything they wanted off of screens, and found their own shooters as wide open as Portland's. The Blazers also surrendered plenty of offensive rebounds, particularly after Przybilla went to the bench.
As a result of the Bulls chasing/respecting too much and the Blazers too little, this almost looked like a friendly game in the first half. Both teams shot and scored. The first units burned together, the second units struggled together. The result was a slight 53-50 lead for the Bulls at the half. The problem with that? Chicago is one of the top three teams in the league and the Blazers are a three-legged Dachshund at a Greyhound track. Moral victory Portland in the first half.
Portland's attack slowed in the third period as Chicago came out with more serious intentions. The Blazers never collapsed but they developed a slow leak in the frame. The Bulls started scoring heavily inside. The Blazers went down 8. Portland countered with Aldridge, heretofore a side dish in their attack. He kept the game from getting away but couldn't pull his team much closer. The Bulls still led by 7 with 40 seconds to go but the Blazers got a pair of improbable threes from Jamal Crawford and Wesley Matthews, leaving the score at 79-78 Bulls as the third period concluded. The Bulls were ahead but they were shaking their heads. What happened? The accelerator was down but the Blazers were still in the rear view mirror...closer than they appeared, in fact.
The fourth period began with Crawford trying to repeat his amazing three-point heroics and bricking. Besides his looks the Blazers had real trouble getting off any clean look. The Bulls were bringing the defense for real now. Despite their offensive woes the Blazers kept the defense and rebounding crisp, turning up the volume in areas they had muted for most of the game. Chicago looked surprised. Who knew the Blazers could defend? Correction: Who knew the Blazers would defend, especially on the road, especially when they weren't hitting shots and generating momentum with offense? But defend they did. The distinct lack of Derrick Rose showed up big-time here. Chicago's point guards had been stroking deep for most of the game but there's a difference between hitting a three when the game is tra-la-la in the second period and hitting one when the game is on the line. They couldn't manage the same level of performance under stress. Nor could they set up their forwards for shots. Nor did the Blazers let them feast on the offensive rebounds which had sustained their attack all game long. All of a sudden the Bulls looked puzzled.
Then Wesley Matthews entered the game for the mis-firing Crawford. He said, "Enough of this [expletive]" and canned a three and a drive sandwiched around a Nolan Smith jumper. All of a sudden the Blazers were up 6 and Chicago still wasn't scoring. A couple minutes later Carlos Boozer elbowed Joel Przybilla in a scrum for a loose ball, bringing out some Classic Joel salty behavior. All of a sudden the clock was back to 2009 as the Blazers balled their fists and hammered the Bulls into submission. Within two-and-a-half minutes Aldridge and Matthews had rat-a-tatted three jumpers while the Bulls managed only 1 free throw. Portland led by 9 with 3 minutes remaining. Chicago's offense from that point on consisted of missing 6 three-point attempts and an 18-footer while making but a single triple. They looked lost. The Blazers looked happy. Portland wins, 100-89.
Take Away Points
Chicago tried the old "cruise, then bruise" approach and got burned. They also lacked Rose, though they're 8-4 without him on the season. It's not like this marks a major turn-around in Portland's season nor a true indication of Portland's ability. If the two teams played tomorrow the Bulls would kill Portland. But that doesn't change the fact that the Blazers played with energy, shared the ball, moved a little, and responded to Chicago's body blows in the third period with some serious punches of their own, catching the Bulls flush on the jaw for the improbable win. Whether Portland wins or loses this game or any of them from now on, it's nicer to see them playing with some energy than serving up the schlock-burgers they provided in Boston and New York.
As mentioned in the Game Flow, the main difference tonight was the early offensive attack...less a philosophical change than a change in practical application. This is what the Blazers had wanted to do all along, getting good looks before the shot clock hit 12. They just didn't do it when they were moving like slugs on valium. The revivification of rebounding and defense in the fourth was also a nice touch. It was great to see them try to win with something besides offense.
LaMarcus Aldridge picked his spots tonight, scoring 21 on 9-18 shooting with 5 rebounds. It was almost like he was the older kid playing with younger ones, letting the other guys spread their wings and saying, "Get me the ball whenever you need a bucket." They did and he gave it to them.
Nicolas Batum shot 6-11 for the game, 6-7 in the first half alone. That wasn't as impressive as his second half performance. When he was hitting shots all over the place his defense slipped. In that second half when the Blazers needed it he buckled down and defended like we all know he can. Plus he had 9 rebounds for the game, all defensive. He gave this team what it needed when he wasn't featured on offense...something a winner does.
Joel Przybilla had but 4 rebounds in 25 minutes but don't let that fool you. Portland's picks stank without him. Portland's rebounding disintegrated when he went to the bench until they finally came around late. He influenced this game beyond the boxcore.
Hallelujah! There's been a miracle folks! This man, Raymond Felton, came to us crippled. He could not dribble. He could not run. His hands would falter on every pass. His shot had the palsy. But BAZAAAM A LAAMMA THANK YEWW JAH-YEE-SUS he is HEALED! Somehow, by some miracle, Felton found the ability to dribble again. Felton found the ability to shoot again. Felton found the ability to run the floor. No longer was he shuffling around aimlessly, dribbling in circles and then losing the ball. 6-11 shooting, 16 points, 5 assists in 30 minutes. I'll let you draw your own conclusions about what might have been happening before tonight...what evil disease, what foul spirit must have stolen poor Raymond's ability to do even the most simple of tasks on the court, costing his team game after game. But tonight it was gone...somehow. Yeah, somehow. Please leave your donation in the plate at the door.
Hallelujah Part 2! Wesley Matthews squared up on his shot!!! And lo and behold, his shot went in. Imagine that. 6-11 shooting, 4-5 from distance, 18 points, and some game-changing offense and defense in the fourth quarter. Now Wesley, please...don't try to become the next Michael Jordan in Portland's next two games. Don't forget your fundamentals. Keep defending. Every time the bike gets going this fast you fall off of it almost immediately. This team needs you to ride.
At least Jamal Crawford hasn't changed. 24 minutes, 3-12 shooting, 1-6 from distance, 8 points. But the three he did hit turned around the game for the Blazers. Not perfect...Blazers still need him.
Kurt Thomas did his Kurt Thomas thing, 2 rebounds and some smart defense in 16 minutes.
Craig Smith got 10 minutes in this game, hit a couple of shots, and grabbed a couple of rebounds.
Nolan Smith did well in the friendly part of this competition and did even better when he was playing off-ball. He hit a generous 5 of 7 shots, including 2 of 2 from distance for 12 points and 3 assists in 18 minutes. When Chicago upped the ante on defense he couldn't respond, but the first part of the story made him an asset.
Luke Babbitt had a Babbitrocious first half but actually snagged a couple of important rebounds in the fourth quarter, finishing with 4 points and 4 rebounds in 12 minutes.
People are going to talk about new coach Kaleb Canales playing the deeper bench guys when Nate wouldn't. Keep in mind that the roster changed radically along with the coach. Had Camby and Wallace still been here the rotation wouldn't have included so many minutes for Babbitt, Smith, and Smith.
Fun With Numbers
- Chicago 18 offensive rebounds and a 45-35 rebounding edge on a night when they missed more shots than the Blazers. Portland had to work hard to overcome that.
- Blazers 49% shooting.
- Blazers 17 assists, which isn't a truckload but it's about twice their average lately. The pass is back.
- Blazers 11-21, 52% from the arc. This was a big factor in the game. Sustainable?
- Blazers 8 turnovers...impressive for a new rotation.
- Blazers hold Chicago to 5 fast break points and 32 points in the paint. Those are practically super-hero numbers compared to what they did earlier this week. Looks like some guys are getting back on defense now.
- Chicago 10 points in that fourth period. Talk about going crunch in crunch time!
Don't over-analyze it, just enjoy.
Blog a Bull (Beware the cursing tonight.)