The Portland Trail Blazers were expected to beat the Chicago Bulls easily when the teams faced off in the Moda Center on Tuesday night. Aside from a freewheeling first period, little about the game was easy. Portland went up huge early, but leaked points minute by minute for the rest of the game. Zach LaVine and Damian Lillard dueled for the final word, but the Bulls ended up with the 111-108 win.
The Blazers came out in the first quarter on fire from distance. They hit four out of their first four three-point attempts on their way to eight makes in the quarter. CJ McCollum and Robert Covington couldn’t miss from deep. Meanwhile Damian Lillard came out aggressively from the jump, pouring in points like pennies into a well. On the other side, Zach LaVine went scoreless, unable to find any range. Portland punished the porous Bulls defense and led 39-21 after one.
The Bulls returned the favor against Portland’s second unit at the start of the second quarter. Their three-point shots began to fall and they cut into the lead, threatening single digits. Portland tried to up the tempo, but their finishers, particularly the bigs, couldn’t control the ball well enough to capitalize. Without easy buckets, the Blazers shot under 30% for the quarter, enduring a six-minute drought without a point. Chicago wasn’t great, but they weren’t that bad. Portland’s lead got as low as seven, but they still led 54-45 at the half.
Portland turnovers marred the start of the third period, allowing Chicago to stay close on the scoreboard despite reasonable motion on offense. Portland’s threes fell, but so did Chicago’s. Both teams seemed content with the long ball deciding the contest. Neither shot well enough to wrest the game from the other. The Bulls closed Portland’s lead to 85-81 at the end of three.
Portland’s defense did not hold up at the start of the fourth. The second unit has good defenders, but that hasn’t translated to good defense. After a couple minutes, Head Coach Terry Stotts tried Harry Giles in place of Enes Kanter. His mobility helped make the backstop firmer, allowing the wing defense to tell. On the other end, McCollum kept up the offensive pressure. Portland stubbornly insisted that the long ball would save them, often taking quick, contested threes. Chicago scored a little more inside. They overtook the Blazers and the lead see-sawed. Chicago grabbed a six-point lead with two minutes remaining. Damian Lillard took over during crunch time, fouled twice—once on a three—and sinking five straight free throws. LaVine hit a deep, but uncontested three with 11 seconds left to put Chicago up four. Lillard returned a contested bomb with 5 seconds remaining to put Portland within one. After the intentional foul, Portland had a chance to tie. The Bulls forced the ball to Carmelo Anthony, whose turn-around three sprayed wide. That was the ball game.
After an abysmal start, Chicago ended up shooting 39% from distance. Portland’s hot start yielded nearly the same rate, 38%. With that stat equal, and Portland relying on it for victory more than Chicago, the door opened for the visitors and they stepped through it.
Stay tuned for the extended recap, diving deeper into the reasons Portland excelled and struggled.
The Blazers take the floor again on Thursday night, welcoming the Minnesota Timberwolves at 7:00 PM, Pacific.