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Media Row Report: Blazers 102, Bulls 94

The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Chicago Bulls, 102-94, at the Rose Garden on Sunday night, improving their record to 5-5.


The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Chicago Bulls, 102-94, at the Rose Garden on Sunday night, improving their record to 5-5.

A vicious and sudden stomach illness defeated me, 1-0, throughout Saturday night and Sunday, leaving me without sufficient energy or mental wherewithal to give this game its usual treatment. An abbreviated version instead. My sincere apologies. This game would be better reviewed by an advice/etiquette columnist like Ann Landers, anyway.

Ann: If a "nice guy" rookie finds his team totally flummoxed by late-game pressure defense and then is wide open under the hoop with time expiring and someone giving chase, should he dunk it? How should the opposing team react if he does? How should his teammates react? -- Sincerely, Lost in Lillard Love, Longview

Well, Lost, a November 2012 game between the Blazers and Bulls had just such a situation mar its ending. The game wasn't much of a contest and was fairly unremarkable up until its closing seconds, as Chicago looked completely disemboweled without Derrick Rose. The Blazers hit 9-for-22 from deep, forcing the Bulls to run uphill in vain, hoping to make things interesting at the end. Chicago applied full court pressure and trapping schemes to force a number of turnovers, but it just delayed the inevitable. They dragged it out long enough so that Chalupas were awarded, very late, before Portland finally sunk enough free throws to keep it out of reach for good.

Bulls guard Nate Robinson then launched and missed a last-gasp three, leaving the margin at six points, and the Blazers cleared the rebound with less than 10 seconds remaining. NBA protocol is clear on this one: advance it past halfcourt if necessary and then dribble out the clock. Do not lay it in and do not dunk it. This way, no one goes home hurt or with unnecessarily hurt feelings.

Video via YouTube user HardwoodParoxysm09

That's not what happened, of course: Blazers guard Damian Lillard threw down an uncontested dunk to provide the final margin, jogging back towards his team's bench with the victory secure, as if nothing had happened. A number of Bulls players, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson in particular, took exception to Lillard's dunk at the end of a decided game. Those feelings were likely heightened by Chicago having just dropped its second game in as many nights.

A center court exchange of words ensued, as it often does, with Blazers veteran Jared Jeffries intervening on Lillard's behalf. Lillard seemed equal parts confused and apologetic. For a player who has yet to raise his voice past "soft" it's impossible to imagine that he meant to scream "fire" in the middle of Chicago's disappointment theater. The teams talked it out and eventually went their separate ways, with life moving on.

The best way to right an unintended wrong is to apologize immediately and make public amends. If Lillard didn't know precisely what to do in the game's closing moment, he understood exactly what to do afterwards.

"When I caught the ball I didn't know what to do honestly," Lillard said after the game. "I was just like, I'm here by myself, I don't know what to do. I didn't mean no disrespect to them by it or anything. Now I know, just dribble the ball out. When I caught it, I didn't know what to do. That's what I did. It looked like they were running towards me still. Next time, I know to just dribble it out. I didn't mean no disrespect to them."

As for what the Bulls were saying to him?

"They just said, 'Don't do that.' I said, 'OK.' That's all I could say. I could see what they would be mad but I didn't mean nothing by it."

And what about his teammates?

"They came over there because they saw how when I caught the ball I didn't know what to do," he explained. "At the same time, it was probably a little bit of conflict because they lost the game, maybe they were a little offended by me dunking the ball. My teammates were there if anything happened."

Here, everyone comes out looking like a winner, or at least with good enough reason to save face. The Bulls imparted the correct message; if they hadn't, a similar breach of etiquette could occur down the road. They did so forcefully enough to get the point across without doing more harm than good or sparking a brawl.

The Blazers win here, too, coming together as a group behind a young star-in-the-making, standing up for him against outsiders before imparting the "right way" to handle things after the fact.

"We just told him, when you're up in the game, and the clock is running out, don't do that," Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge said in an NBA TV post-game interview. "I think he felt like they were going to foul him again. we told him they weren't going to foul him. He's a pretty smart kid, he won't do it again. That was pretty tough, all the Bulls players got mad about that."

All in all, about as smooth as learning experiences go in the NBA.

Ann: OK, but what should the player's coach do? That type of etiquette breach is bound to draw questions from the media. What's the best way to handle that? -- Truly Yours, Toasty for Terry, Tillamook

Toasty: star players, as a rule, deserve an added degree of respect and protection. Young players, as a rule, deserve an extra benefit of the doubt. Given that the immediate outside reaction will invariably be criticism, a coach's job is to defend his player's reputation as efficiently as possible. Generally, this means downplaying the incident and, if necessary and plausible, making a basketball-related excuse for the conduct.

Blazers coach Terry Stotts found himself in this exact position, and he very nearly stuck to the script.

"I haven't talked to him about that," Stotts said, implying that the dunk wasn't worthy of a discussion. "How do I feel about that? I think it's a lot to do about nothing."

Stotts was almost home free until a follow-up question about the impact of the play upon the Bulls tripped him up.

"I think it's a lot to do about nothing," Stotts repeated, before stopping the press conference for a moment and making a point to turn towards the reporter who was pursuing the line of questioning, directly calling him out. "I think it's interesting that that's the first question that comes up after a game like that."

And here we have a clear difference of opinion on coach/media protocol worthy of some exploration.

In the reporter's eyes, the post-game skirmish was the headlining event of the evening, given Portland's commanding performance and the lack of real drama or standout individual performances. In the coach's eyes, a young team just won its third consecutive game by thumping a team that entered the night above-.500. The reporter is operating with the knowledge that the press conferences generally run eight to 10 questions at most; the coach is operating from the position that he makes himself available after games longer than many coaches, generally answering questions until there are none left. The reporter wants to make sure the important quotes are given during the allotted time; the coach would prefer to talk up his guys for a minute or two before delving into the uglier stuff.

Both sides carry validity, but this difference of opinion wasn't worth the defensiveness that resulted. Stotts, in a sense, underwent a learning experience just like Lillard. The only non-negotiable aspect of the post-game press conference is media nitpicking. Lose, there will be nitpicking. Win, there will be nitpicking. Keep winning, and the nitpicking will continue in humorous circles, on subjects like when starters should be pulled, proper procedure for making Chalupas shots, and whether the 11th and 12th men should get some run so that their families can be sure they are still in the NBA. That stuff is coming no matter what.

There was just no need to go after a reporter on this, even slightly, especially because Stotts has already demonstrated an advanced ability at deflecting questions with one-word answers. Casting undo attention on this manner was counter-productive to his original point, which was to ensure that his team received appropriate credit for their effort.

Should the winning continue, these questions will become the ideal time for a coach to work on his fake laughter and his ability to pivot, rather than an opportunity to engage in a squabble. The hidden takeaway for a coach is that these questions are really just veiled compliments. If this is all the unwashed media mass has to complain about, you must have done a pretty good job.

Random Game Notes

  • This was another fairly quiet crowd. Deemed a sellout. The always loud section 314 is back in midseason form, though, leading cheers on numerous occasions.
  • Brandon Roy will reportedly not play in Friday's game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Blazers at the Rose Garden because he will undergo knee surgery.
  • Many pointed out that Noah found himself in a similar situation less than two weeks ago, when he launched an unnecessary three in an attempt to win Bulls fans free burgers
  • Allison from Oregon City sang an amazing National Anthem.
  • I'm not sure if I was hallucinating because of the food poisoning but I'm almost positive that there was an intense Serbian pre-game dance routine, scheduled in honor of the match-up between two Serbians: Sasha Pavlovic and Bulls forward Vladimir Radmanovic.
  • Jesse Eisenberg from the "Social Network" was in attendance. So was one of the actors from "Grimm."
  • Lillard had a really pretty, Derrick Rose-esque, up-and-under, contorting lay-up early.
  • Meyers Leonard had three fouls in three minutes in the first half, reducing his impact on this one.
  • The jumbotron highlight of the night was Jared Jeffries rocking out to "Call Me Maybe." Nolan Smith also enjoyed it: This is my song. This is my album." Jeffries at least pinned it on his daughter: "My little girl loves this song."
  • "Blazer Hippie," a staple from previous years who seems to have disappeared more recently, was back on the jumbotron, wearing a tie-dye shirt.
  • Ronnie Price had 10 points and five assists in 19 minutes. Two obvious standout plays: his pretty lefty pass to Nicolas Batum for a breakaway dunk and then his going to the floor for a loose ball on defense in the second half. He became the first Blazers reserve to hit double figures all year.
  • Lillard on Price: "He was huge for us. I got a lot of rest because he played well. He made shots, he made plays for other guys. He really put a lot of pressure on them defensively. Diving on the floor. Stuff we see him doing all the time. It's good to see him do it in the game."
  • Afterwards, Price said that his ankle will be a day-to-day thing for the foreseeable future and that doctors told him he should expect to deal with swelling throughout the rest of the season.
  • Price stood up for the bench, which has caught a lot of (deserved) heat so far this year: "For the most part I think we do our job well. Now if we get in the game and we're giving up buckets defensively, those are the stats that people should look at as far as our bench goes. If we're not doing what we need to do defensively, that's a problem... The bench has played its role to a certain extent all year. Give or take a few plays in some of our games early on, those could easily be wins and we wouldn't even be talking about the bench. If you look at some of the close games that we lost, the bench wouldn't even be a topic. The fact that we have lost some tight games, you have to find something that's wrong, right?"
  • Jeffries played down the stretch, a move I like a lot when Portland is holding a solid lead. Casey Holdahl of has crunched the numbers of Jeffries' savant charge-taking abilities.
  • Regularly scheduled programming should continue on Monday, with any luck.

Terry Stotts' Post-Game Comments

Opening comments

I thought for the most part that was one of our more complete games. They had a little stretch at the end of the first quarter to expand the lead but, once again, we competed, we got the lead by making a lot of shots, then they came back. We withstood that. I was proud of the way we played a full game.

Damian Lillard's late dunk?

I haven't talked to him about that. How do I feel about that? I think it's a lot to do about nothing.

Showed up the Bulls?

I think it's a lot to do about nothing. I think it's interesting that that's the first question that comes up after a game like that.

Jared Jeffries and Ronnie Price

Those two guys, they've stayed in the league a long time doing what they do. Jared Jeffries is a solid basketball player. He does all the little things that go unnoticed. I think basketball fans notice it but they are not in the box score. Ronnie, that was obviously his best game of the season. He was a +18 in his 20 minutes on the court. He made shots, he dove on the floor, he battled Rip Hamilton, he did it at both ends of the floor. He made his threes and he had another one go in and out. Those two guys and Sasha [Pavlovic] in the second half. Sasha had quality minutes as well. Those guys are veterans and they know how to play.

What's different between three-game winning streak and previous three-game losing streak?

The two games where we lost right at the buzzer? I don't know. They are completely different games. Different opponents. I can't think back that far. We played well, we're growing as a team. Win a road game and two at home, it's something to build on.

Added dynamic with Ronnie Price

It gives us versatility. Playing him and Damian together gives us some versatility. It allows us to keep Damian's minutes a little bit lower so he's fresh at the end. Ronnie has played some good games but hasn't necessarily scored, played well in Sacramento, played well against Atlanta. This was the best game he had this year.

His ankle is still not 100 percent but he's gradually getting to where he wants to be.

Will Barton

Will is a baller. He goes out and plays. He loves being on the court. I don't know if he knows, I know I don't know what's going to happen, but he goes out and plays. He has energy. I thought he was good.

Wesley Matthews

I've said this I don't know how many times but he's a great competitor. He has a high basketball IQ. He's tough. Whether he's taking on a defensive assignment against somebody bigger or somebody smaller, chasing Rip off of screens, he finds a way to compete.

LaMarcus Aldridge applying himself on the glass

He'll say it's the shoes. He said he felt faster. He was going after them. We rebounded as a team. Obviously LaMarcus went after it, especially defensively. We've been a decent defensive rebounding team all year. LaMarcus went after them.

Batum spurt in the third quarter

He busts out. He has a lot of confidence in taking those shots. He gets on a roll like he did against Houston, it's impressive. He can throw nine points up pretty quick. We used him some in pick and rolls tonight. That's an area that I would like to be able to use him. Allows him to be a creator and a facilitator and a scorer.

Getting to .500

It's good to be .500. We didn't go into the game saying, 'Let's go be .500.' The important thing was winning at home and playing well. The record takes care of itself.

Late-game execution against press

They were being aggressive. We'll address that. We'll have better spacing, we were caught off guard a little bit. Chicago is an aggressive team. They did the same thing against the Clippers. They trap and they're aggressive and we do have to handle that better.

Joakim Noah

I really like him as a player. He's long, athletic and smart. The two jumpers he made, people don't think they go in, they go in. He's a leader on the court. In college he's a leader. I think he's a leader on that team, from the outside looking in. I think he's a winner.

-- Ben Golliver | | Twitter