The Portland Trail Blazers stayed tight with the Chicago Bulls tonight despite a difficult 3-point shooting performance, but they couldn’t seal the deal late, falling 104-96 at home.
Deandre Ayton helped mitigate Portland’s 6-33 performance from beyond the arc with perhaps his best game of the season. The big man finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds on 9-12 shooting from the floor, producing a huge third quarter that helped Portland briefly take its first lead of the game and enter the fourth quarter trailing 76-75.
But the Bulls jumped on the Trail Blazers quickly to start the fourth quarter. Chicago extended its lead to as large as nine points again and then held off a Portland rally late to complete the win.
Veteran forward DeMar DeRozan led Chicago with 20 points, while reserve center Andre Drummond broke Portland’s back all night from the interior, finishing with 15 points and seven rebounds.
Jerami Grant led Portland in scoring with 24 points, but Portland’s starting backcourt of Anfernee Simons and Malcolm Brogdon struggled. The duo combined for 27 points on 8-28 shooting from the floor. Rookie Scoot Henderson added four points and four assists on just four shots from the field in 22 minutes off the bench.
Here’s how it all went down.
The Bulls took the opening tip for a fastbreak dunk by Ayo Dosunmu in the first five seconds, but Ayton responded in kind with an easy alley-oop dunk off a feed from Simons. Evidenced by that first play, the Blazers didn’t provide much defensive resistance in the early going. Dosunmu knifed his way into the paint for six easy points and Alex Caruso canned his first 3-point look from the corner — all part of a perfect 4-4 start from the field. Ayton finally provided some toughness in the interior with an emphatic rejection on a Coby White layup, leading to a timeout by Chicago with the Bulls ahead 9-4.
After the Trail Blazers hit their first two looks from the field, the offense went cold for the next three minutes of game time, despite generating decent looks. The team was clearly trying to feed touches to Ayton early, and it led to kick-out 3-pointers that didn’t drop. Grant broke the cold streak with a left-corner 3 off a quick swing pass. It seemed to unlock some of Portland’s rhythm. Jabari Walker finished strong inside for two, then Brogdon drew two free throws. The buckets, part of a 7-2 run, turned an early 11-4 deficit into a more manageable 13-11 score at the 6:59 mark.
Beautiful ball movement led to an extra pass from Henderson to a wide-open Simons at the top of the key, who cashed in the triple to tie the game at 19-19 with 3:45 remaining. Henderson and Matisse Thybulle were the first subs off the bench, and they injected some nice energy onto the floor. Henderson provided toughness on the offensive glass to win multiple extra possessions, while Thybulle’s defensive prowess helped slow the Bulls down after it looked like they were on their way to 180 points. Thybulle even added a silky skyhook on offense as a bonus.
With both offenses churning more slowly, the Trail Blazers ended the first quarter trailing 26-23.
After both teams started the second period with lids on their respective baskets, Drummond and Brogdon went tit-for-tat with finishes in the paint.
A few plays later, Henderson got his first points of the night on a fadeaway midrange jumper. Fresh off that make, Henderson pushed it in transition to find a trailing Duop Reath for his first 3-point hit in five attempts. Scoot kept the good vibes rolling with a floater just outside the key at the shot-clock buzzer that touched the sky before hitting nothing but net. During this mini run from Scoot, the Bulls hit their shots, too. Portland coach Chauncey Billups signaled timeout with the Bulls still leading 35-32 at the 7:26 mark.
Henderson’s fourth assist came a few minutes later on a beautiful lob to a cutting Ayton. The rookie hung in the air on a drive, looking stuck, before looking back to find Ayton for the easy deuce. On the other end, on multiple possessions, the Trail Blazers looked forced deflections that looked like sure turnovers, but Chicago each time regained possession in the frenzy. With the defense then out of sorts, the Bulls converted both plays for easy buckets at the rim. Those finishes helped ignite a 10-4 run that brought the Bulls back to a 46-37 lead. While neither team could shoot from 3 to save their lives, the Bulls consistently generated layups with too little resistance coming from Portland.
On one possession in the final minute, Walker and Brogdon got clean looks from deep that looked good but didn’t find the net. The duo shot a combined 0-5 from 3 in the first half, factoring into Portland’s 3-18 marksmanship on 3-pointers for the half.
Chicago ended the half on a two-for-one scenario that worked to perfection: White banked in a floater, then Caruso finally cashed a 3 with one second left. Ayton got a dunk in between those buckets, but Portland still entered halftime trailing 53-42.
The Bulls also shot a struggling 4-17 from deep, but that didn’t stop them from shooting 54.5% from the field. Portland, on the other hand, had a 39% outing from the field. That disparity explained the double-digit deficit.
Grant started the scoring for both teams in the second half with a physical drive into Nikola Vucevic and the teeth of Chicago’s defense. Then Grant got fouled on a 3-pointer, knocking down all three free throws to quickly bring Portland back within six points. A few minutes later, Grant worked Caruso with a shimmy in the post for a thunderous slam, all part of an 11-4 run to start the third quarter. As Grant was shimmying his way to buckets, the Bulls took turns throwing bricks at the rim from the 3-point arc. The Bulls called timeout at the 7:34 mark, their double-digit lead now shrunk to 57-53.
As if shooting 3s wasn’t hard enough for Chicago, Thybulle stuffed a Caruso 3-point attempt out of bounds. That possession eventually ended in a 24-second shot clock violation. Then Ayton got the Moda Center rocking with an alley oop slam, followed by a powerful dunk on the very next play. Two plays later, the center showed off his touch with a spinning shot deep in the lane, and then a free throw line jumper. Ayton was putting his imprint all over the game and keeping Portland in contact with Chicago, as both offenses settled into a flow.
With the score at 67-65, Portland got two looks from 3 to take the lead, but Thybulle and Brogdon couldn’t connect. Portland was still hunting for its first lead of the game when Chicago called another timeout at the 3:17 mark with the score still stuck at 67-65, but the home team had stolen the momentum back.
Since Ayton had it cooking, Portland continued to search for its big man. Brogdon found Ayton deep in the paint, resulting in a Chicago foul, sending Chicago over the limit and Ayton to the line for two free throws. Ayton swished them both for the first tie since the second quarter. Then Grant got up for one of the best blocks of the season, pinning Drummond’s shot against the backboard. Grant was fouled as he hauled in the rebound, sending him to the free throw line. He hit one of two to give Portland its first lead of the game with 2:12 remaining in the third.
Suddenly the at-once defunct offenses were trading buckets and leads to the delight of the Sunday evening Portland crowd. When the dust settled, Portland entered the final period trailing 76-75. “Buckle up!” this writer said to himself as he prepared for 12 more minutes of basketball.
The Bulls quieted Portland’s momentum quickly in the fourth quarter, opening on a 5-0 run generated entirely by Drummond, who killed Portland all night. Billups called a quick timeout with the Bulls leading 81-75 with 10:53 left.
After a Portland turnover led to two Chicago free throws, Ayton settled things down for the Trail Blazers with a midrange jumper. The Bulls continued to hound Simons with Caruso and an extra defender, giving the lead guard some problems. But on two straight possessions, Simons fought to find Thybulle for a corner 3 and then Ayton in the pocket for a floater. The only issue: Chicago responded after each bucket with a triple and 2-pointer of its own, keeping the Bulls ahead 90-82.
Simons, Brogdon and Grant all got clean looks from deep, but missed them as Portland’s long-distance connection issues continued. Now with the game under seven minutes to play and Portland still down eight, the clock was just starting to creep up on the Trail Blazers in a menacing manner.
Simons responded with a badly needed 3-point play on a tough reverse finish. Then after a big stop on defense, Simons thought he got fouled on a drive to the cup. The Trail Blazers broadcast was perfectly angled to catch Simons give the baseline official the what-for in the form of some choice words not appropriate for young readers. The official responded with a spiteful technical and Chicago cashed in the bonus free throw. Before you could stay mad at Simons for too long, the young vet hit a crucial triple to cut the deficit to 92-89 with 4:37 left. Timeout Chicago!
Once again, Chicago quieted the hometown momentum with another 5-0 run. After both teams traded misses, Brogdon lowered his head for an and-1 bank shot. He hit the free throw to bring Portland back within five with just over two minutes remaining. A missed Vucevic triple in the corner led to a lefty scoop from Thybulle, and Portland was back within a single possession.
DeRozan granted Chicago some breathing room with two free throws. Then Dosunmu and DeRozan hooked up with maybe the play of the game: Dosunmu stuffed a Simons layup toward the baseline, then DeRozan chased the ball down to throw it off Simons before falling out of bounds. Possession Chicago.
After the defensive gem, Portland got called for goaltending on the next possession, but upon review, the call was overturned, giving Portland the ball, down five with 53 seconds left. Simons burst to the rim for two off the glass, but in the must-stop possession on the other end, Dosunmu hit the 3-point dagger. Chicago led 102-96 with just 20.5 seconds left.
Caruso hounded Simons, forcing him to unload the ball to Thybulle, who turned the ball over to effectively end the game. Vucevic hit two free throws and that did it.
Stay tuned for extended analysis of the game coming soon.
The Trail Blazers are back in action at the Moda Center tomorrow night against the Philadelphia 76ers. Tipoff is scheduled for a little after 7 p.m. PST.