The Portland Trail Blazers gave a mighty effort in Chicago tonight, playing the Bulls to the late minutes of the fourth period, riding a torrential outpouring of points by superstar Damian Lillard. Portland opened up huge margins, approaching 20, in both halves, but couldn’t stop Lauri Markkanen and the Bulls from hitting threes. Whenever Lillard sat, Portland’s offense dried up. Their defense remained shaky throughout, no matter who played. In the end, the Blazers looked dead in the water, down 5 with less than 12 seconds remaining on the clock. A pair of threes from Lillard changed the narrative of the evening, and maybe the road trip, as Portland splashed out a 123-122 revenge win in Chicago.
The first quarter was good news/bad news for the Blazers. Damian Lillard came out strong with 13 points in the period. Enes Kanter had 8. Portland looked strong in the pick and roll, which Chicago seemed congenitally unable to handle. As usual, the Blazers couldn’t close out at the arc, nor did they rebound terrifically even with Kanter on the floor, let alone without him. Worst of all, Portland’s three-point shots weren’t falling. Thanks to Lillard, they managed 32 in the period. Chicago scored 34.
The second unit, really the third with all Portland’s injuries, couldn’t keep up the scoring pace as the second quarter opened. Bad defense, though? No problem. Chicago streaked out to a 44-36 advantage. Five quick points from Gary Trent, Jr. erased the gap in less than a minute, though. Trent hit another three at the 6:35 mark to put the Blazers ahead, singlehandedly making the bench shift look good. Trent would finish with 10 in the period. Chicago also went colder than a lake effect wind, helping the cause. Portland played a zone defense that might have had something to do with it, but the Bulls missed a ton of open looks too. When the half closed, Portland led by 11, 64-51.
Lillard and Kanter teamed up again to expand Portland’s lead at the outset of the third. Dame bombed deep while Kanter mopped up inside. The Blazers went up by 17 before Chicago heated up again midway through the period. The Bulls threatened single digits, but Lillard and Trent shut that down with threes, putting Portland up 18 again. Unfortunately. the Bulls canned threes down the stretch. Portland led only by 7, 93-86, after three.
The offense stalled for Portland as the fourth quarter unfolded. Chicago continued to rain threes. The Blazers’ second-unit players watched each other take iso shots, most of which missed. The scoreboard was knotted by the 8:00 mark. At that point Terry Stotts had seen enough and checked Lillard back in. Dame promptly hit a pair of threes, serving notice that the Blazers weren’t going to give up easily. Sadly, the Bulls weren’t either. Threes kept falling like doughnuts in Homer Simpson’s favorite alternate reality world. Lauri Markkanen was a thorn in Portland’s side all quarter long. As the clock dwindled, it became patently obvious that whoever hit the last shot was going to win it. That was absolutely going to be Chicago. They led 122-117 with 11.5 seconds left and Portland was preparing for another narrow loss. Then Lillard hit a 35-foot three to pull the Blazers within 2. Then Trent, Jr. forced a jump ball and won the tip. The Blazers got the ball to Lillard as the last second dripped off. The ball left Dame’s hand wet and spinning dewdrops of sweetness all over the court from the release to the splash through the net. Portland won on a highlight three and held a road-trip resurrecting celebration.
Robert Covington returned for the Blazers tonight. For a while, he made the defense better. For most of the game, there was a little island of goodness around him, a bubble in which the world was...if not ok, at least tolerable. Sadly his reach doesn’t extend all 94 feet of the court, and wherever he wasn’t, Portland couldn’t perform.
Dame finished with 44 points on 15-26 shooting, including the game winner.
The Blazers will take on the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday at 5:00, Pacific.