Coming into the season pundits had the Chicago Bulls among a small group of contenders for the NBA Title. If tonight was any indication, the Portland Trail Blazers are shoe-ins for a dynasty after putting a 105-87 drubbing on the Bulls tonight.
With Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Kirk Hinrich, and eventually Taj Gibson (ankle sprain) out due to injury, this game wasn't anywhere near indicative, of course. But it was a nice win nevertheless.
For those of you just joining us this season, we have a tradition of dispensing with the normal recap format. So let's get right to the 4 exciting things that happened during this contest.
1. Sensing Chicago's vulnerability and lack of depth, the Blazers came out fast and kept the Bulls running hard. Not only did Portland race down the court at breakneck speed during the first period, they took the earliest available shot on most possessions. It was as if the pre-game speech consisted of 3 words: "Don't think, shoot!" Those attempts fell again and again, creating a 14-0 run in the quarter and a 32-21 edge after one. But even had they not fallen, Chicago would have gotten tired just chasing the ball. It was a brilliant strategy...one the Blazers are employing more this season and to great effect.
2. That first-quarter lead could have been a billion had it not been for Portland's bench, which took a 17-point lead with 3:00 remaining in the period and ground it into unidentifiable goo. The Bulls would close to within 41-37 in the second before Portland's starters returned in force and ripped through another 14-0 run. After that the game was over. Portland led 61-43 at the half, 89-65 after three.
3. Allen Crabbe scored 9 points including a fierce dunk on Chicago's Tony Snell.
4. Mike Dunleavy Jr. shoved Damian Lillard after a flying close-out on a three-point attempt, making no effort to hit the ball or anything but Lillard's body. This precipitated a minor scuffle during which Wesley Matthews got in a nice shove. Dunleavy was assessed a Flagrant 1 while Matthews and Aaron Brooks received technicals.
Other than that, this game had more squash in it than a Minnesota soup line. At no point was the game out of Portland's control. Aside from the brutal bench run straddling the first and second quarters, Portland fans had nothing to do but cheer. It was a dominating way to go 9-3 and a nice affirmation prior to the upcoming 2.5-game road swing (Boston, Philadelphia, Charlotte).
Damian Lillard scored a team-high 21 points on 7-9 shooting, a perfect 4-4 from the arc. "Perfect" pretty much describes his evening overall. His 9 assists and 6 rebounds were nice. His 4 turnovers were mostly a result of the faster tempo and didn't impact his team much. It was a tip-to-buzzer display of greatness, maybe his best game of the season overall. The best part of those 21 points? They came in 26 minutes of playing time.
LaMarcus Aldridge scored 16 points on 6-13 shooting without breaking a sweat. His 9 rebounds and 2 blocks had as much of an impact as his scoring.
Nicolas Batum played 21 minutes and hit his shots (4-6) but it was hard to get a good read on him from this game. He looked as smooth as usual, so hopefully the knee injury is behind him.
Wesley Matthews was a large part of Portland's early, fast-attack strategy. "Fast" has seldom been used to describe his offensive game, but he caught and spun in the post with ease tonight, eschewing stationary dribbles. He didn't look bad doing it either. His confidence has grown, not just in his offense but his impact. He looks more in place this season than we've ever seen him.
Robin Lopez was his usual nifty self with 12 points and 7 rebounds in 23 minutes.
Note: No starter played more than 28 minutes tonight. That's got to be a record for recent-vintage Blazers teams.
It's hard to judge bench play in a game like this even though the reserves get more minutes than normal. The game situation isn't the same, nor are the lineups. Crabbe performed well, looking in tune with the offense. Chris Kaman ended up taking bail-out shots when nobody else was scoring and shot 4-11 as a result, but he looked fine too. This wasn't Steve Blake's best game but he wasn't bad either. But that's the totality of Santa's "Nice List" tonight.
On the naughty side of the ledger you have Thomas Robinson, Meyers Leonard, Dorell Wright, Joel Freeland, and Will Barton. Wright tried to stay active but he looked like he was pressing his offense something fierce...like he had been let up for air and air=shots. Robinson and Leonard weren't in the groove. They had nice moments but tended towards their chaotic side. Freeland rebounded well but picked up fouls like they were pennies on the sidewalk. Barton couldn't hang onto the ball.
But again, you can't really judge bench merit in a game like this, good or bad. It was an opportunity for some of these guys to step up and mostly they didn't...oatmeal mush with a side of Crabbe. Tomorrow's another day for this work in progress.
And that's about it. Here's the Boxscore. You can catch all the post-game reaction in our Instant Recap. Blog a Bull will be filled with resigned swear words tonight. And don't miss our In-Arena Report capturing the mood of the crowd, cool jerseys and signs, and the like.
P.S. I've been intrigued with Nikola Mirotic for a while. He played very well tonight. Man, would he look good in a Blazers uniform. It's not just the single-game production, but his style, bearing, and awareness. This guy could be a serious weapon in the right system.