The Portland Trail Blazers and Chicago Bulls burned up the nets in the United Center on Sunday afternoon. Absolute torrid offense typified the game. Both teams defended eagerly, but each out-shot the opponent’s “D”. Chicago figured to come into the game with the benefit of star power, with Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan both strong All-Star candidates. It didn’t turn out that way. Norman Powell scored 22 while CJ McCollum played with the defense like a yo-yo, pouring in 29. The Bulls had a superior passing attack, with Ayo Dosunmu and DeRozan in double-digit assists, leading to an astonishing 36 overall. They also got really strong play from center Nikola Vucevic, who helped corral Jusuf Nurkic in a way few centers have. All of that totaled to a 130-116 Bulls win.
Because of scheduling conflicts, we’re not following our usual dual-recap formula for this game. I’ve had to watch it delayed, playing catch-up with the writing. So I’m going to give a brief sketch, then you all can fill in the rest.
Both teams stared the game ON FIRE. The Blazers hit a half-dozen threes in the first period alone. It was all but unconstitutional for them to miss. That period also featured both teams connecting on mid-range jumpers. Ball movement facilitated open shots; everybody cashed in. Portland led 35-29 after one.
In the second quarter, Chicago just outhustled the Blazers. beating them to the rim and rebounds. Zach LaVine was an unholy nightmare heading to the cup. Coby White struck deep with threes while Portland’s defense was trying to figure out what to do against Zach. Chicago scored 44 in the period, overshadowing an impressive 30 from Portland. The Blazers were playing a good game, the Bulls a great one. Chicago led 73-65 at the half.
The Bulls came out hot in the third, but seemed to get complacent. Their ball movement slowed and any shot became a good one. They could be forgiven for the misstep, given the evidence at hand, but that still allowed Portland to go on an extended 13-5 run mid-period. That turned a potential disastere game into a still-reachable one. The Blazers lost the quarter, but only by 4. The Bulls led 104-92 after three.
Portland finished the game super strong, with the offensive tap still wide open. They had two problems. First, many of their makes were coming from the mid-range, They were falling, but those shots come off the dribble, not really threatening the defense or making them shift. They’re also worth two points per shot, not per dribble. Had the Blazers been ahead by 15 instead of down by same, it would have been the perfect offense. Instead, they had trouble catching up. Second, the Bulls had no trouble shooting either, and they were getting to the rim and hitting threes more. Portland kept scoring, but Chicago’s lead kept growing...an odd sight for sure, and ultimately fatal to Portland’s comeback hopes.
Centers of Attention
This game belonged to guards. The teams feature six good ones between them, counting DeRozan and Powell. Five of those six scored 20 or more. The lone exception, Coby White, scored 18.
That said, the fascinating battle of the day came between Vucevic and Nurkic. Nurk tried, but he looked lost without the ball going into his hands every 2-3 possessions. He had a single assist against 4 turnovers. He attempted only 5 shots. Most tellingly, he grabbed 4 rebounds in 26 minutes against 14 for Vucevic in 32.
Nurkic hasn’t gotten outplayed much lately, and he didn’t entirely here. The game just went around him on both ends. But dang, it was a shock to the system to see him playing less than great.
It’s not often you’ll see the Blazers shoot 51.8% from the field, 46.2% from the arc and lose. They even hit 6 more threes than the opponent. You’d expect a dozen-point victory with those numbers. But Chicago shot 50-90, 55.6%, from the field overall while still managing to hit 40.6% from the arc. 52 points in the paint from the Bulls all but equaled the 54 the Blazers generated from three-pointers. After that, small edges in offensive rebounds and turnovers allowed Chicago enough extra shots to stay ahead.
We’ve reach the point in Anfernee Simons’ progression where we can say he didn’t have his best game, but he still shot 5-10 from the arc and scored 21. Yes, Chicago guards were scoring at will. Yes, McCollum did far better than Simons. But when an off night amounts to 21 points, 50% shooting from the arc, and a team-high 6 assists, you are having a whale of a month.
We already mentioned Chicago’s prodigious total of 36 assists. Getting dimes on 72% of your buckets is a nice thing. That was coupled with Portland’s inability to pressure the passing lanes in any recognizable way. That’s been a strong point for them over the last few games. Instead the Bulls’ assist-to-turnover ratio was 36-7. Compare that to Portland’s 23-12 and you can see why Chicago blossomed.
This is one of the ways in which the Blazers miss Nassir Little. But hey, Watford was really strong and raised eyebrows nonetheless.
The other: Portland had 22 bench points, and 14 of those came from Trendon Watford and Greg Brown III. Credit to both. Watford had an impressive, 22-minute outing. But take him out of the mix and Portland’s bench shot 5-17 for 12 points, hit 2-11 from the arc, and utterly failed to defend anybody. The Bulls, meanwhile, got 40 from their reserves.
The Blazers get no rest, but a slightly easier opponent, drawing the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday in a game that starts at 5:00, Pacific.