It's a sure bet that the Portland Trail Blazers got up this morning, ate something for breakfast, pulled on some socks, brushed their teeth with X number of strokes, starting with the top or bottom. Whatever it was, whatever they've been doing so far this season, they need to catalog it and do it the exact...same...way every darn time until the campaign is finished. Unless somebody screws up and puts on the wrong pair of underwear, they should be crowned World Champions by the time this is done, at least if the trend continues.
Once again the Blazers stared down the black pit of futility tonight. Once again another team took advantage of their weaknesses...this time a team that knew what it was doing and was talented enough to back up that knowledge with decent play. And once again through hustle, poise, sticking to their game plan, some made threes, and more circumstantial help the Blazers veered away from the depths and clung on to a victory.
The Chicago Bulls ran a clinic on how to handle Portland in the first half of this game. It was like Portland's 10-2 record was their first cigarette, the Bulls were their daddy, and the Moda Center floor was located squarely behind the woodshed. The Bulls demolished the Blazers in every way possible. They started off laughing right in Portland's face, letting Carlos Boozer go against LaMarcus Aldridge 1-on-1, letting LMA know he'd have to play defense tonight. Boozer's 8 points in the opening period was only the beginning of the pain. Luol Deng administered a horse whipping to the Blazers all on his own, bludgeoning his way past Wesley Matthews for a rebounding massacre. Deng had 8 rebounds in the quarter. 4 of his offensive boards led directly to a score. The rest of the Bulls chimed in with the rebounding too, controlling the glass like manly men and making the Blazers look like baby birds hoping mama would drop something their way. Mama said no. Portland wilted.
On the other end of the court the Bulls double-teamed Aldridge every time he posted. This was maybe their only questionable defensive decision of the night. Aldridge scored only 2 points in the first half which seems to support their strategy. But Wesley Matthews got free for his patented catch-and-shoot on more than one occasion. That hardly mattered, though when Derrick Rose went OFF on the Blazers in the lane. He was either scoring, getting fouled, or his near-misses were getting rebounded by the Bulls. Once he started running Chicago's whole offense shifted into fourth gear and the Blazers couldn't keep up. Portland couldn't get down the floor quick enough, couldn't stop penetration, couldn't recover the rebound, couldn't score consistently. The Bulls put it in cruise control late in the second quarter and ceded some of their 23 point lead back to the Blazers but Chicago still led 59-44 at the half.
Then the Blazers went into the locker room, ate some Triple-Steak Stacks, and walked onto the floor for the third period like Hurricane Doug. You could hear Moda Center PA Announcer Mark Mason say, "You can run with these guys, Doug!" The Bulls shoulda grabbed their umbrellas. The Blazers were about to make it rain.
Portland's energy and hustle increased exponentially in the third period. They employed a familiar tactic to assist the effort: collapsing inside. No more penetration. No more post-ups. If you pass inside you're going to find a thicket of arms. And maybe we can get our hands on a rebound or two.
Turnovers and rebounds played a key part in Portland's comeback effort. Poking away passes and bothering Chicago bigs catching the ball allowed the Blazers to dart out without having to worry about the Bulls' prior dominance on the glass. Robin Lopez getting to hang inside instead of chase around helped him secure the middle better and unleashed his rebounding potential. The Blazers started playing physically. The Bulls started looking tired. Now the Blazers were scoring on layups and free throws instead of jump shots. This made their three-pointers more deadly when they did hit. The Bulls drifted outside and started missing. Portland cut the lead to 9 at the 7:11 mark and tied it at 3:47. Everything the Bulls had done well in the first half they just stopped doing in the face of Portland's onslaught and they got left by the side of the road, dazed hitchhikers on a one-way road to Rip City madness.
Then the Blazers got yet another one of those quirky breaks that have typified this early season. Derrick Rose, who had torched every defender the Blazers threw at him except Nicolas Batum (to the tune of 20 points in 3 periods), banged his knee on a drive and left the game with 3:20 left in the third. The Bulls were already perspiring from nervousness. Now they'd perspire from fatigue as well, having to run Kirk Hinrich and Mike Dunleavy extra minutes to keep their heads straight and their hopes alive. Portland rode the momentum to a 78-71 lead at the end of the third, a 34-12 period in Portland's favor.
The Bulls had enough of that, though. In the fourth quarter they took care of the ball, fought back to even on the boards, stopped Portland from running out, and started scoring in the lane again. The big difference was that, sans Rose and energy flagging, their paint scoring had to come from much slower post-up sets instead of quick penetration. This dimmed the impact and their ability to score points. They still did well, getting high-percentage looks and offensive rebounds, but they weren't able to get the tempo high enough to damage the Blazers they way they had earlier. The Blazers went to their stars in the final period. Damian Lillard hit clutch shots. Aldridge kept getting doubled in the post but the Bulls weren't near quick enough in their rotations anymore (why not single-cover?) and Portland hit their threes like they were popping Cheetos. Kirk Hinrich found some success driving and shooting both but he was no Derrick Rose. Several times the Bulls looked confused as to what set they were running in the halfcourt. They didn't have the 1-on-1 players to bail themselves out of it either. Chicago kept it close but Aldridge hit 2 free throws with 7 seconds left to put the Blazers up 3 and Chicago didn't get a good look at the three to tie. Portland wins, 98-95.
The Bulls ended up with 17 offensive rebounds tonight and a +12 advantage in the paint (which would have been +1 billion if not for Robin Lopez put-backs). They nearly doubled the Blazers in foul shot attempts, 29 to 15, earning +12 at the charity stripe as well. But the Blazers hit 12-26 triples (46%), closed the turnover gap to make it non-significant, and quickened their offense enough to close the gap in shot attempts as well despite the offensive rebounding for Chicago. The boxscore says the Bulls scored 0 fast break points but what they mean is the Bulls never got ahead of Portland for an obvious layup. In the first half Chicago shot early enough in the clock that some of their makes might as well have been fast breaks. Those shots changed the tempo in the same way a run-out would and allowed Chicago to control the game. Portland reversing that in the second half was a key to victory.
Wesley Matthews was the player of the game tonight with 28 points on 12-19 shooting including some of the only life-raft buckets available in that dismal first half. The Bulls let him turn on the tap early and he just flooded them. The caveat: his defense was not as bad as his offense was good, but it didn't trail that far behind.
Matthews should take a slice of that game ball and give it to Robin Lopez. In his first shift he might as well have donned a red vest and become a tour guide for the Moda Center. "Here is the glass. That's the rim. Oh! Here comes the ball! You can grab it off of there and lay it up into there! See? Everybody happy and enjoying their visit?" But the great thing about Lopez is he's basically impossible to dent. Take advantage of him? OK, he's going to come back and play. Shove him around? OK, he's going to come back and play. As the game progressed he got more active, got his hands on more balls, found himself available for more chip shots, and eventually out-tortoised all the Chicago hares to the tune of 13 points and 16 rebounds, 8 of each variety. Those offensive boards proved crucial in helping Portland score and control the pace of the game. Since rebounding was the #1 way the Bulls dominated in the first half, Lopez's work was game-saving tonight.
LaMarcus Aldridge shot 4-20 under the glare of Chicago's defense. He scored 12 and grabbed only 6 boards. But he had 4 assists, 3 steals, and never made the game about him when it wasn't going to be about him. He'll be glad the Blazers don't play Chicago every night though.
Damian Lillard went 6-14 for 20 points with 6 assists but man, his defense was worse than Matthews'.
Nicolas Batum, on the other hand, played some fine defense, running like a fireman to put out whichever Bulls player got hot. It mostly worked too. He scored 17 on 5-12 shooting, the most significant damage coming from distance as an outlet guy much like Matthews. He had 8 rebounds and 5 steals.
This was not a good night for Portland's bench. Mo Williams put up the best stats with 8 points on 3-7 shooting with 4 assists in 21 minutes but, continuing the backcourt theme, his defense was a sight to make eyes sore. Dorell Wright had 3 assists in 14 minutes but missed all 4 of his shots and wasn't much of a factor. Joel Freeland was over-matched against Chicago's frontcourt. Thomas Robinson was over-matched just tying his sneakers tonight. He was not only blowing shots, he was blowing his own team's plays.
Golden State comes up tomorrow night. That ought to be an interesting matchup of shooting teams. Can the Blazers take it to 12-2?
Timmay's Instant Recap and GameDay Thread Review. You might want to check out that third period in the GDT.
Blog a Bull will be swearing at anything that moves tonight.
The first night of the 2013-14 Jersey Contest is in the books. You can view your score by logging in HERE. Since we redid the entire game form system we're using this games to catch bugs. Check your score and see if you find anything unusual. Scoring is as follows:
30 points for predicting the winner correctly regardless of score
0-30 points for getting close to the score, -1 point from the potential 30 for every point your prediction was off.
0-10 points for each supplemental question. Pull-down menu questions are 0 or 10 depending on whether you got it right. Number-based questions are -1 point from the potential 10 for every point your prediction was off.
E-mail me if you see something wacky with your score. There will be no form for tomorrow's game while we're checking tonight's results.
Stay tuned for the Media Row Report and Chris Lucia's preview of tomorrow's contest versus Golden State.