The Portland Trail Blazers began a five-game road trip in style Monday, ousting the Chicago Bulls 112-110 in a close and thoroughly entertaining contest that featured over a dozen lead changes. Damian Lillard once again played the stud, but the Blazers got another complete effort up and down the roster to lead to the victory.
Both teams got out to fast starts, with Dwyane Wade leading the way for Chicago as CJ McCollum carried the early load for Portland. Finding success against the much larger and much longer Jimmy Butler, McCollum scored 10 points in the opening period as the Blazers earned an early advantage. But two sloppy possessions to end the quarter, including a bonehead and-1 layup given to Wade, handed back the lead to the Bulls at 32-29 at the horn.
Wade continued to plague Portland for much of the second quarter, adding 13 points to his tally. At least he did it with less help as the Blazer defense made its mark. Allen Crabbe started to heat up, finishing with 15 points in the first half. Lillard, McCollum and Moe Harkless had strong shifts as well, helping the Blazers to reclaim the lead heading into the locker room, 65-57.
As easy and free Portland looked for most of the first two quarters, everything came to an abrupt halt in the third. For the first time all night the Bulls played physically on defense. They controlled the pace and seemed utterly determined to challenge the Blazers’ questionable interior presence in the paint. Chicago’s shots still weren’t falling but they were able to get to the foul line. Free throws put them ahead again just minutes into the period. Portland struggled to put points on the board but still kept pace, falling behind by as much as six before timely buckets from McCollum and Lillard helped keep them within striking distance: 87-86, Chicago as the period ended.
The first few minutes of the fourth quarter went back-and-forth until Evan Turner jumped in and took control of the game. With the score tied at 96 with just about nine minutes to go, Turner caught fire, scoring 10 of the Blazers’ next 12 points as part of a 24-8 run. Portland’s defense clamped down for one final stand and when the dust cleared at the 5:55 mark, the Blazers held a 103-93 lead. They would not relinquish it. The Bulls tried to foul for possession in the closing minutes but Lillard was perfect from the line and iced it like Lake Michigan in February.
With the Blazers beginning a grueling stretch where they will play eight of their next nine games away from the Moda Center - including showdowns with the Warriors, Clippers and Thunder - starting off with a win is a huge boon for confidence going forward. The victory also avenged a downright embarrassing 113-88 beatdown at the hands of the Bulls back on Nov. 18. Portland didn’t blow out Chicago, so the revenge was not served cold, per se...more room temperature, but it was served.
The Bulls played without Rajon Rondo, who was serving a one game suspension issued by the club and was replaced by Jerian Grant in the starting lineup. Grant, who was a game-changer in the previous matchup (18 points, 5 steals), was mostly a non-factor tonight. He finished with just 5 points and 3 rebounds in 23 minutes.
The defensive effort for the Blazers was much better than 110 points allowed might suggest. They weren’t perfect but they managed to limit Chicago to just 42% from the floor. Portland’s active hands led to 9 steals and 8 blocks. The Bulls did manage to make some headway at the charity stripe. Portland gave them 38 foul shots, taking only 18 themselves. Wade and Butler drove to the cup relentlessly. Portland’s most frequent response was sending a lumbering big into the key to knock them over...not exactly a world-beating strategy but not atypical for the Blazers.
Damian Lillard again gets star billing and he earned it (30 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks). The three-ball hasn’t been falling as for Dame as of late, but he had it going tonight (3-6 3PT) and was able to take advantage of the lack of a Rondo-free backcourt to move with impunity. Chicago hardly pressured Dame and not much else they threw at him stuck, so he just looked both ways, ran to his spot and usually found a good shot waiting for him when he got there.
C.J. McCollum did most of his damage early, scoring 10 of his 24 in the first quarter. He burned Jimmy Butler on a number of occasions, including a baseline blow-by to get to the rim and an elbow fadeaway right in Butler’s grill. Butler is a very good defender but C.J.’s handles are just downright unfair.
McCollum had his hands all over the game early, and Lillard was brilliant throughout, but Evan Turner’s run in the fourth quarter allowed the Blazers to seize control. Playing in his hometown with family in attendance, Turner was cooking. All four of his makes came from the mid-range, most off the dribble and with a man in his face. Those points helped the Blazers steal momentum and never look back. Turner also played decent defense on Wade and Butler.
Allen Crabbe dusted off the remains of his early-season slump with one of his best games of the year: 17 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals. He scored all over the floor, hitting only one three but finding success with his floater and pull-up game. This in the type of production the Blazers have been waiting for from their $75 million man.
Maurice Harkless had a better first half than second, but continued to be his usual all-over-the-place self (11 points, 8 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block). He had the play of the game in the second quarter with a heady steal off of Butler, which he took the length of the court to finish with a one-hand jam. Got to love that versatility.
Al-Farouq Aminu made his return tonight after missing the past 13 games with a strained calf. Chief came off the bench and played 17 minutes. He looked a bit rusty in the early going but had some nice moments in the second half. He didn’t try the outside shot at all, but scored on a pretty drop-step move in the post and looked aggressive driving the ball.
Links and Such
Blog a Bull still has a rare Bears win to celebrate
The Blazers’ five-game road trip continues Wednesday in Milwaukee when the Blazers take on the surging Bucks at 5 p.m., Pacific.
Blazer’s Edge Night 2017
Want to assist us in sending 2,000+ underprivileged Portland-area kids to a Trail Blazers game this spring? Check out Blazer’s Edge Night 2017 for information on how to get involved, and help spread the word!