In one of the strangest matches of the season, the Portland Trail Blazers recovered from a terrible start to overcome an 18-point deficit and defeat the scorching Chicago Bulls 112-107 at the Moda Center.
On a night when the two Blazers stars had forgettable shooting performances, it was the greats who came up with huge plays on the home stretch. Jusuf Nurkic put in a worker-worthy double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds, while Larry Nance Jr. continued his stellar game with perhaps his best game in a Portland uniform (16 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals).
Damian Lillard led the Blazers with 22 points and 10 assists, but only shot 6-18 from the field.
Even missing its All-Star center at Nikola Vucevic, Chicago easily lines up its most competitive roster since the Derrick Rose era, and his record (10-5) shows it. A busy offseason surrounded Vucevic and Zach LaVine with DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball, who performed like a glove. Portland was completely overwhelmed at the start by the Bulls line and had to dig deep in the second half to find its way into the game.
The Blazers found themselves in a hole almost immediately, as the Bulls came out on fire. LaVine led a three-point dam with three triples over the quarter and DeRozan went pretty much anywhere he wanted inside the arc, giving the Portland defense a seemingly unmanageable amount of real estate to cover. .
Meanwhile, the Blazers struggled mightily with their own shot and were forced to rely on a heavy midfield offense to stay afloat. Portland worked the ball well, but couldn’t convert that into a reliable shot. These issues were all the more evident when watching Chicago execute many of the same principles – selfless passing, pace, and an emphasis on the play from the inside to the outside – more effectively from the other side.
Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for a goose egg in the points column and the Blazers were lucky to be as close as they were down 33-24 after one.
It was pretty much the same with DeRozan and LaVine continuing to make Portland’s defense look like Swiss cheese. The Bulls had an answer to whatever happened to them and ended up choosing between good shots and better shots. The duo totaled 33 points in the halftime against just 6 for Lillard and McCollum, who were stifled by Ball’s tenacious defense and all-too-familiar Alex Caruso.
If it weren’t for a few reckless fouls on Chicago’s part, the Blazers would have faced a much less surmountable task, but instead dragged 63-48 towards the locker room.
It was the night coming out of the break, as Portland finally showed up to the ball game. After throwing the kitchen sink at LaVine in the first 24 minutes, they threw the sink, counter, and dishwasher at him in the third, knocking him off the three-point line, sending double teams and basically challenging anyone else to beat them. The tactic worked and Chicago, which had seemed almost invincible until then, started to show some cracks.
While the Blazer’s backcourt still struggled to score points on the board, it received a huge boost from the frontcourt. Nurkic was finally starting to find success in pick and roll, Nance Jr. was a big factor on both ends, and suddenly Portland was back behind in single digits. Now it was the Blazers winning speed games and using the pace to their advantage.
Bulls only took an 85-81 lead before the fourth.
Portland continued its momentum in the critical time and eventually tied the game on a Lillard three just under the 8-minute mark. Another McCollum triple a few possessions later completed the comeback and regained a brief 94-92 lead. From there, it was a back-and-forth battle against the Ulcer Ravine.
The teams traded their lead in the last minute, but Chicago’s magic seemed to have dried up. LaVine had more of a crisp, depth look that could have either equalized or regained the lead from the Bulls, but none found their mark.
A few big blows from Lady, including a 30-foot bomb, and the upheaval was at the rendezvous. The Blazers didn’t score a basket in the last two minutes, but hit the foul line where they were perfect.
Portland somehow escapes with a surprising victory.
Stay tuned for the in-depth analysis to come.
The score of the box
The Blazers get a few days off before hosting the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night at 7 p.m. PT.