The contest between the Portland Trail Blazers and Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night at times more resembled a championship prize fight than a regular season basketball game. The Bulls gave Portland everything they could handle in the early going, jumping out to a 15-point halftime lead before the plucky Blazers picked themselves off the canvas with an inspiring second-half effort to earn the late knockout with a 112-107 victory.
There was a bit of luck involved, as Chicago’s Zach LaVine missed a wide open three-pointer in the closing seconds that would have tied the game. Alas, the shot rimmed off, Nassir Little snagged the rebound, was fouled and hit the game-icing free throws to cap off a second-half comeback in which Portland outscored the Bulls 64-44.
Damian Lillard battled through a rough first half to finish with a team-high 22 points for the Blazers, while the Bulls were led by the dynamic duo of LaVine and DeMar DeRozan. The two combined for 52 points on the night—33 of which came before the halftime intermission.
For a detailed rundown of the action, see our Instant Recap.
Here were the key takeaways from Wednesday’s victory.
Tale of Two Halves
The Blazers struggled mightily over the first 24 minutes of action. While there were certainly a few defensive breakdowns, the overall effort level was there. Unfortunately, Chicago got a number of difficult looks to fall. DeRozan dominated the midrange with a series of fadeaway jumpers, while LaVine connected on contested looks from beyond the arc. Additionally, the Bulls took advantage of eleven Blazer turnovers and a ton of missed shots to push the pace and excel in transition against an unset Portland defense.
Lillard and CJ McCollum suffered through a combined 1-10 shooting effort in the first half, and Jusuf Nurkic was the only Blazer in double-figure scoring with 10 points. Portland had solid ball movement early, but shot just 39% from the field and went a dismal 3-12 from distance. Chicago shot at a 58% clip, and went nearly 50% from three.
The tables turned in the third quarter, however, as it was Chicago who struggled to take care of the ball, committing 10 turnovers in the frame that led to 18 Blazer points. Portland’s offense capitalized on the chance to get back in the game, with Norman Powell and Larry Nance Jr. leading the charge. The Bulls were outscored 33-22 in the quarter, and were never able to regain momentum. The Blazers’ lockdown defense continued into the fourth quarter, and LaVine’s attempt notwithstanding, largely won them the game.
Blazer Bigs Step Up
Hope appeared lost for the Blazers after Nurkic picked up three quick fouls to open the second half, exiting the game at the 8:40 mark of the third quarter with four personal fouls total. Trailing by 17, Portland rallied with the 6’7” Nance playing center. The move payed off, as Nance worked beautifully with the Blazer starters, getting the job done with his passing, scoring, rebounding and defense. He ended the night with a season-high 16 points, nine rebounds, three assists and three steals in 25 solid minutes.
Nurkic re-entered the game early in the fourth quarter and picked up right where his fellow big left off. Taking advantage of a Bulls team playing without starting center Nikola Vucevic, Nurk dominated the glass, finishing with 12 rebounds (six offensive). He also worked extremely well with Portland’s guards on the screen-and-roll, scoring 18 points—his highest mark since he dropped 20 on opening night. More importantly, he only committed one foul the rest of the way, allowing Nance nearly nine minutes of game action to rest before coming back in to finish the game with less than two minutes remaining.
With his 7-7 performance from the charity stripe, Lillard passed the great Clyde Drexler for the most made free throws in franchise history. Drexler still owns most of Portland’s individual career offensive records, outside of made three-pointers, but it seems only a matter of time before Lillard reaches the top of the mountain.
The Blazers will have the next two days off before hosting the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night, where they will honor the 1977 championship team. The game is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. PT.