The Portland Trail Blazers faced the Chicago Bulls tonight on shaky ground. Without Damian Lillard due to injury, wobbling through a .500 record, seemingly anything can happen on a given night regardless of opponent. As it turned out, most things did happen for Portland in this game, including spurts of poor play followed by inspired efforts, seemingly sure-fire players falling apart while unexpected heroes pulled through. When the dust settled, the Blazers owned a 124-120 victory. It’ll look better in the record book than on the court, but the team could use some wins like that.
Say Goodbye to Two-thousand Evan-teen
The first quarter of the New Year saw an extra aggressive and efficient Evan Turner. Turner scored 10 of Portland's first 16 points and assisted on another basket. He had his mid-range shot going, he scored from the post, and he was able to get to the basket and finish at the rim. 2018 Evan Turner was as good as Portland has seen him in a Blazer jersey.
It wasn’t just Turner hitting in the first quarter either. Everyone not named CJ McCollum (0-5) had it going early offensively as the Blazers led 31-23 after one.
The Running of the Bulls
The Bulls started the second outscoring the Blazers 23-8 and wiping away Portland’s first-quarter lead. I’m not a betting man, but Portland losing a double digit lead is easy money at this point. As with any 23-8 run, part of the problem was the Blazers not getting their offense going and the other part was not able to get stops on the other end. The ball picked up speed on almost every Bulls possession and the Blazers couldn’t slow them down. Chicago finished with 9 assists in the second quarter compared to 4 for Portland.
McCollum finally hit his first shot of the game with 3:39 left in the half after missing his first 7. Jusuf Nurkic finished the half 1-4 with 3 points. So how was Portland able to stay within 1? 2018 Evan Turner continued his dominance staying hot in the second, exiting the half with 14.
CJ Two-Thousand and Late-teen
McCollum may not have made his presence felt until the second half, but the third quarter was his personal party. He dropped 14 in the quarter on 5-7 shooting and helped give Portland their second 31-point quarter of the game. During the same span the Bulls scored 34. Great spacing, hustle, and shooting above their season averages resulted in six Bulls finishing the third in double figures. Chicago also carried a rebounding advantage of +11 after 3.
New Year, Same team?
After a mostly nondescript start to the fourth, Portland got down six with under 4 minutes to play. They managed to battle back with key stops when needed. Al-Farouq Aminu hit 3 threes in the fourth. The Blazers found themselves with the ball, score tied at 112, with 17 seconds left. Terry Stotts opted not to call a timeout. McCollum took the ball up the floor and got a good shot off, but it bounced off of the back of the rim. The two teams headed to overtime.
Fortunately the extra period carried less suspense than the fourth quarter. Aminu and Turner started the overtime off with a three pointer each and CJ closed the game with the final 6 points for the Blazers and came away with the 124-120 win.
Undefeated in 2018!
After scoring only 5 in the first half, CJ McCollum responded with 27 after halftime to lift the Blazers to this win. He also added 8 assists. CJ completely controlled the offense for Portland the entire second half— something that had to happen with Damian Lillard not playing.
Like McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic had a quiet first half but put in a great defensive effort down the stretch. He finished with 11 points, 15 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks.
Pat Connaughton, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Evan Turner all played great games, combining for 64 points while shooting 8-13 from the three-point arc. That trio carried the Blazers in the first half, then and came up big again when needed in the second half. Portland doesn’t win this one with any of the three playing close to their average games.
Shabazz Napier was not as spectacular as he had been the previous three games, but was still solid. He looked a little tired, like the previous extended run had been wearing on him. Even so, he controlled the game, finishing with 6 assists and 0 turnovers. He also had a big stop (not a foul) on Kris Dunn to seal the win for Portland.
The Bulls played like a solid NBA team. They got good shots, hit them, made big plays, and worked hard. Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic gave the Blazers fits: Portis on the boards, Mirotic with his shooting. They were both matchup problems when they saw the court. Luckily for Portland, neither player hit the 20-minute mark and their effect on the game was minimized.
Blog a Bull might have sworn over this outcome if their team hadn’t been playing like soggy biscuits all year. Come to think of it, they still might.
It’s a quick turn-around for the Blazers as they face LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday at 4:00 PM, Pacific. That game will feature the Cleveland debut of Isaiah Thomas and the return of Damian Lillard.