The Portland Trail Blazers returned to the Moda Center Tuesday carrying a two-game win streak to host the Chicago Bulls. It would be only the third career contest between All-Star point guards Damian Lillard and Derrick Rose - Lillard, who has in the past drawn comparisons to to the former MVP and has cited his game as an influence, typically rises to the occasion when facing high-caliber opponents, so there would be much intrigue into the match-up.
Chicago, looking to rebound following a 106-94 loss to the reigning champion and still unbeaten Golden State Warriors, looked every bit its gritty, defensive-minded self as it took the Blazers out of rhythm from buzzer-to-buzzer. Perhaps one of the deepest rosters in the association, the Bulls length and depth gave Portland fits all night.
The Blazers were led by Lillard's near triple-double (19 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists) albeit, on 4-22 shooting (yikes!), CJ McCollum (18 points, 4 rebounds), and Mason Plumlee (11 points, 17 rebounds). The Bulls were led by Jimmy Butler (22 points, 4 assists, 4 steals), Rose (17 points, 6 assists) and Pau Gasol (12 points, 14 rebounds).
The Blazers got out to a slow start, missing its first seven shots and falling into a quick 10-point hole. Chicago looked crisp and rested despite playing on the road, spreading the ball around well and getting Portland's defenders out of position. The hot shooting of Nikola Mirotic spread the floor for the Bulls' post triumvirate of Gasol, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson to punish the Blazers in the paint. Coach Terry Stotts elected to finish the period going small with a PF/C combo of Maurice Harkless and Ed Davis, which was dominated on the boards and failed get anything going on offense. Portland's only saving grace would be Lillard's aggressiveness getting to the basket and drawing fouls - scoring five of his nine points in the quarter from the charity stripe.
End of First: Portland 22, Chicago 29
Chicago's defense shined even brighter in the second, stifling the Blazers' attack. Bulls swarmed Portland ball-handlers and left little breathing room, holding the home team to a, becoming all-too-familiar poor shooting first half of just 31%. A sign of a good defense is forcing the shots you want the opposing team to take, and it will be no coincidence that Plumlee's first three consistent "jumper" attempts we've seen this season - all misses - happened in the first half Tuesday. Fortunately, Chicago's bullishness began to fade and Davis, Plumlee and Co. finally found some rebounding success. If Portland wasn't going to shoot well, it would at least try to make up for it with sheer volume. The Blazers somehow found itself within just six with seconds to go before an unguarded half-court heave by Butler pushed the deficit to nine.
Halftime: Portland 39, Chicago 48
Following a forgettable first half, Noah Vonleh announced his presence loudly - his three-pointer early in the third pulled Portland within four, and followed it up with a tantalizing sequence in which he blocked Rose's layup attempt on one end, then outran everyone the full distance of the court to finish an alley-oop dunk from Lillard. But each time the Blazers would threaten to make a run, the Bulls would seem to answer immediately. Butler's alley-oop layup from Mirotic pushed the lead back out to seven, and Doug McDermott's jumper made it ten. Portland was getting run off of the three-point line and met with steely force at the rim, having a tough time as it struggled to find a way over, around or through the sizable Gasol. It was about as taken out of its gameplan as the Blazers have looked so far yet this season.
End of Third: Portland 63, Chicago 71
Chicago finally showed some signs of playing on the road during the fourth - Rose had converted on back-to-back possessions and looked poised to perhaps put the game out of reach early; but instead, the Bulls went ice cold. Starting at about the ten-minute mark, Portland went on a 11-0 run as Chicago missed ten straight shots to pull within just two, before Gasol's jumper closed the floodgates. McCollum answered right back with a three, and following an odd flagrant -1 foul on Butler by Plumlee, calmly hit a par of free throws to tie the game. Pau Gasol's hook two minutes later gave the Bulls a five-point lead before Davis' free throw, and Plumlee's coast-to-coast dunk brought the game again to just one possession at 87-85. Plumlee then blocked Gasol's layup attempt at the other end and Lillard was fouled on the ensuing possession. However, Portland's most clutch player did not deliver - splitting the pair. Blazers were forced to foul Butler, who was perfect at the line. On the final possession, down three, McCollum got Noah on a switch at the top of the arc - a pump fake got Noah in the air and CJ tried, and failed to draw the foul, heaving up a no-chance clunker.
Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers will look to give Portland some payback when they visit the Moda Center Saturday at 7 p.m. Stay tuned to Blazer's Edge tonight, for extended analysis of this game from Dave Deckard.
-- Ryan Rosback | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter