After sending most Rip Citizens into cardiac arrest with yet another blown lead, the Portland Trail Blazers took down the Chicago Bulls 123-122 on the road tonight thanks to 44 points and a game-winner at the buzzer from Damian Lillard. Enes Kanter also put together a nice game, scoring 22 points and adding 11 rebounds. Gary Trent Jr. added another 18 in the victory.
The Bulls had several players perform well in this one. Lauri Markkanen had 31 points along with six threes while Zach Lavine had 26 points himself. Coby White also had 20 points.
Both teams had a hot start, finding success in their early offense, though in different ways. The Bulls happily let it fly from three while Damian Lillard worked the two-man game with Enes Kanter to get inside buckets. The newly-masked Robert Covington also returned to the lineup, generating turnovers that led to opportunities on the other end for Portland, a welcome sight. No one on the Blazers has quicker hands than Covington. Lillard once again had a high-scoring first quarter with 13 points, but the Bulls hit six of their 12 first quarter threes and led 34-32 at the end of one.
The Bulls kept letting it fly from deep in the second, but their shots weren’t falling consistently. Portland rotated and got decent closeouts on shooters. Gary Trent Jr. started to find his shot, scoring 10 points in the period. It wasn’t just standstill threes either; Trent has really developed as an all-around scorer, hitting from mid-range, at the rim, and on the move around the arc. Combine that with his tenacious defense and you have a recipe for a solid quarter. The whole team stepped up defensively in the second and held Chicago to 39.1% shooting in the half. The result was Portland taking a 64-53 lead at the half.
Chicago had to immediately call a timeout at the start of the third because Lillard hit back to back threes to end his shooting drought. One of those was from the logo. It set the tone for the rest of the period. Portland extended their lead as it progressed. Lillard had a 15-point quarter and Kanter kept punishing the Bulls for switching guards onto him. If there’s one thing you can’t let Kanter do, it’s dominate smaller guys inside. Unfortunately, Chicago hit some late threes and ended the quarter on a 10-2 run. That cut Portland’s lead to 93-86 with one to play.
Things did not start off great in the final quarter, which truthfully was the most Blazer thing that could happen. Chicago hit four quick threes and started making their way to the foul line. Zach Lavine really got things going, making tough outside shots and using his gravity to open things up for Lauri Markkannen. Once again, a shooting big man proved harmful to the Blazers. Clean looks started popping up for the Bulls, but Portland responded almost every time. Lillard could still get anything he wanted out of the pick and roll, controlling the pace. Despite that, Chicago took over and Portland blew the lead.
The Blazers ended up down 5 with 11.5 seconds left when OH MY GOD DAMIAN LILLARD JUST HIT THE GAME-WINNER! Technically, Lillard hit a deep shot, then Trent, Jr. earned a jump ball on the inbounds with Portland down two. Trent tipped it to RoCo who miraculously flipped it to Lillard on the right wing. As he does so often, Lillard drained the stepback over Markkanen, beating the Bulls 123-122.
A Gutsy (and Much Needed) Win
This win was nice for a variety of reasons. Not only was it the coolest way that any team can win a game, but it was also one that ended a two-game skid against inferior opponents. It also showed that the Blazers are capable of putting together victories against decent teams, even when down key players.
If you’re a pessimist, you could point to the defensive foibles in the second half as a problem. (Chicago shot 64% during that span.) You could also argue that it’s not ideal that Lillard once again needed a herculean performance just to give Portland a chance. But pessimists are frankly annoying, especially after exciting wins like this. Not everything is solved, but man, what a fun victory.
Dame Is Just Unbelievable
Speaking of Lillard, let’s talk about him. Anyone who has ever watched Dame play knows what you’re getting from him: logo threes, pick-and-roll proficiency, and obviously game-winners. Everyone is prepared for a buzzer-beater, yet he still blows Twitter up because he just keeps doing it.
That shot was the cherry on top of Lillard’s dynamic performance. The basketball nerd in me wants to give props to him and Kanter for how fluid the two-man game looks between them. It also wants me to acknowledge how exceptional he is at accelerating and decelerating in the pick-and-roll seemingly at will. But the fan in me just wants to sit here and appreciate a classic Logo Lillard performance: 44 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds.
GTJ is Portland’s Second Best Player Right Now
I feel like this isn’t a particularly hot take, but it’s worth emphasizing that Portland’s second best player at this moment is Gary Trent Jr. He’s just taken another leap this year despite having way more responsibility, not to mention more film on him. His shot versatility stands out; he looks comfortable scoring from just about everywhere on the court. And as always, he was bulldog we know and love on defense in this game.
Trent is going to be a free agent this year. With every passing game he makes himself a little more money. He’s shown so much ever since the bubble and seems to be getting better. He’s going to be offered a big contract this summer, and the Blazers should do whatever they can to match it.
Next up, the Blazers will travel to Milwaukee on Monday to take on the Bucks. Tip-off is set for 5:00 p.m. PT.