Mar 21

Defense Keys Big Win in Chicago

By mikebarrett Posted in: Bulls

I’ll concede that the win in Chicago, over a disappointed Bulls team still smarting after a tough loss to Denver, was surprising.  But, what wasn’t surprising was Portland’s defensive effort, given all the time devoted to it during Wednesday’s practice in Chicago.

Even though Portland shot the ball very well against the Bulls, and built a 28-point lead with offense, it was defense that won this game.  There’s no question about that.  I don’t remember a game this season where I’ve been more impressed with Portland’s rotation, scrap, and physical play at the defensive end than this one.

We caught a glimpse, again, of what this team can be when it knuckles down and attempts to set the tone of the night at the defensive end of the floor.  You could probably toss rebounding in there as well, because when they forced misses by Chicago (and they forced a lot of them) a Blazer was there to gobble up the loose ball. 

LaMarcus Aldridge is quite simply playing the best basketball of his career right now- even with the miss at the buzzer that would have beaten Philadelphia in the first game of this road trip.  Playing the team gave him up for Tyrus Thomas and Victor Khryapa on draft day, Aldridge seemed determined to prove that he was the best player on the court.  His offense was great, but his defense was fantastic.

Aldridge finished with 28 points, 8 rebounds, and was an efficient 14 of 23 from the field.  Chicago threw multiple defensive looks at him, and he fought through them all.  LaMarcus usually does most of his damage from the left block, but if you saw the shot chart we showed during our post-game show, you saw how tonight his attempts came from all over the court.  The Blazer coaches get some of the credit here, because when Aldridge gets it rolling, the Blazers move the pick-and-roll offense all over the court to keep the defense off balance.

Aldridge’s partner on Portland’s frontline, JJ Hickson, also played solid defense, and grabbed a career-high 21 rebounds.  I had him for 22, and that may still possibly be changed once a video stat review is concluded (those follow each and every game.).  Hickson fell one point short of another double-double, keeping him with at 37 for the season.  Aldridge, was two rebounds short of a double-double, keeping him at 33 for the season.

So, if it was Portland’s frontline that set the table, the backcourt swept the floor with Chicago.  Damian Lillard was terrific, again, and posted 24 points and 7 assists.  He was 4 for 7 from behind the three-point line, keeping Chicago’s defense from packing the middle.  Wesley Matthews, who had 7 three pointers against Milwaukee, was 3 for 5 in this one, and had 11 points.  Nic Batum also hit 3 bombs, and posted 6 assists and 6 rebounds.

The Blazers only had two players score off the bench, but those two played excellent games.  Meyers Leonard, playing back in his home state of Illinois, had 8 points and 5 rebounds in his 26 minutes.  He still had a few moments where he found himself in the wrong place on offense and defense, but he was a presence, and that’s all Stotts is asking him to be right now.  Eric Maynor also had 8 points, along with 2 assists.

Poor starts got the blame for the first two losses on this trip.  The Blazers fell behind by as many as 14 in Philly, and by 27 in Milwaukee, before rallying in both.  Against the Bulls, the Blazers were proactive, threw the first punch, and then kept on throwing them.  That’s simply how they have to play to have a chance to win on the road. 

Two nights after being outscored 31-8 in the second quarter by the Bucks, the Blazers outscored the Bulls 32-16 in the second quarter of this one.  Then, in the third quarter, when they’ve been prone to giving back what they built to end the first half, they kept pouring it on.  Portland outscored Chicago 28-16 in that third, and ended up shooting 60 percent in those middle two quarters.  Most impressively, they held the Bulls to a combined 32 points in those quarters. 

In the second half, the Blazers built a lead as large as 28, before the Bulls mounted a mini-charge.  Chicago did its best to fight back, and ended up losing by only 10, but the outcome was never really in doubt.

It was Portland’s fourth-straight win over Chicago, and have now beaten the Bulls in 9 of the last 11 meetings.  Given that the Bulls have been a solid team for a few years, that’s an impressive mark.

We’ve joked at times that it’s probably a good thing that Portland plays so many winning teams the rest of the way.  But, the numbers actually back that up.  With this win, the Blazers are now 17-18 against teams over the .500 mark.  Sadly, they are 15-18 against teams with losing records. 

Yes, that seems backwards.

After a win like this you can’t help but start rewinding the calendar in your mind, even to the first game on this trip.  If Aldridge’s shot in the final seconds goes down in Philadelphia, they’d be looking at a 2-1 record on this trip, and would be riding some serious momentum, and would be dreaming about one final push for a playoff spot.  As Aldridge reminded me after the game, the players still are.

Friday night, the Blazers will conclude the second back-to-back set on this trip when they take on the Hawks in Atlanta.  More of the same, please.  Stotts’ pre-game talk may be more detailed than that, but that’ll be the basic theme.

Talk to you from Georgia.



  1. Thanks Mike. If only we could grt this effort at the start of every game.

    by Ancientone on 3/21/2013 9:06 PM
  2. wow, quick post, MB; did you start writing this when we were up by 24?! i look at this as a solid win. we still didn't play 48 minutes, but we played about 36 and the Bulls played much less than that. i don't want to sound like a downer about a win on the road over the Bulls, but it's a good win.

    but it's not a great win. if you score 99 points you can't call it a great win. again, not to sound like a downer, but the numbers don't lie. it was really a defensive win. i'm just very glad we showed up on that other end of the floor.

    we certainly needed to pick up a game like this and i saw your tweet about those percentages against plus-.500 and minus-.500 teams. it's kind of astounding. just imagine where we would be if we had won half of those games we very much should have won.

    short response tonight. last final tomorrow & i need to get some rest. driving up to pdx right after the exam. looking forward to another Blazers win.

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 3/21/2013 9:10 PM
  3. Mike, or Kassandra, how many of our 10 road wins were against above 500 teams. I know that 2 of them were against SAS, they lost 4 home games all year and 2 were against the Blazers. And we beat NYC on the road. Who else? It seems like the Grizzlies and the Clippers. Now Chicago.

    Kassandra IMO this was a great game, not perfect by any means but surely a great one.

    by Hg on 3/21/2013 10:43 PM
  4. I am not certain the 17-18 against teams over 0.500 and 15-18 against teams less than 0.500 statistics really states , lead to clear conclusions, with only 2 games win difference. If we changed 0.500 to below and up 0.530 or to 0.470, would the results be different ? But yes; Chicago was a rather good team and to win is also to win against average or bad teams. Good win.

    by Soopadeajo Sopadeajo on 3/22/2013 4:26 AM
  5. Olshey has said from the beginning what he expects from this team is improvement throughout the year. Mission accomplished. This team is special. They have the IT factor. They just don't have all the pieces. Yet.
    Damian has only gotten started.

    by the golden ladder on 3/22/2013 7:05 AM
  6. It was a fun win. For the first time in a very long time I saw the ball bounce Portland's way. For the first time in a long time I saw their opponents miss a lot of shots. It seems that the key code word tonight was JJ "playing with a lot of energy on defense" which seems to mean that he finally decided to play some D, and it worked out very well. Meyers getting 26 minutes with only a couple of what Chris Haynes called "his usual bonehead plays" helped too. And the team shot well, which helps the defense a lot because the other team can't push it up the court.
    This is a fun team to watch and support. The overall effort and chemistry are good, they fight hard when they're down, and on the rare occasions when they click from the opening whistle they can beat any team in this league.

    by David Maclaine on 3/22/2013 9:04 AM
  7. KMM,

    With a game the next night we are not going to play pedal to the medal the whole game so to expect more is unrealistic.

    Best road game I've seen in a long time.

    by mgb on 3/22/2013 11:02 AM
  8. This is getting exciting. Not the playoffs. Not this year. The future. It will be a long off season. Anticipation.

    by Divotking on 3/22/2013 3:02 PM
  9. @golden ladder
    I like that. We do have the IT factor.
    I love this team and am willing to wait.
    Still watching...

    by allie-oop on 3/22/2013 3:48 PM
  10. We were in a playoff series. I think against Houston. They had a perimeter defensive stopper. I think it was Shane Battier. He shut down everything we did that was successful for us during the season. After we lost the series the Blazers felt they needed a perimeter defensive stopper of their own.
    He was a restricted free agent. The Blazers went after him. Offered him a huge pay increase. Utah didn't feel he was worth that kind of money and let him go.
    We put a Blazer uniform on him and asked him to play defense. In his first year here everyone was surprised he could also score the ball. Over the years he has only gotten better at scoring. To have a player that takes so much pride in his defense and is a scoring threat is a double edged sword.
    Very nice win in Atlanta.
    Bring on the Thunder.

    by Divotking on 3/22/2013 6:09 PM
  11. Hey Mike,
    Is there any way we could go back to Philly, put 7.1 seconds on the clock and inbounds the ball one more time?

    by Divotking on 3/22/2013 6:36 PM
  12. Ya Divotking, I was thinking the same thing, we were so close to being 3-1. I have been saying since the All-Star break we were a different team and we are. We are getting better and better, can you imagine next year.

    by Hg on 3/22/2013 7:17 PM
  13. @mgb: that's why we have a bench of eight guys per game rather than just two. my point is, when we have lapses, we often lose leads. it's no secret we've relied on our starters this season much more than we should have. by all accounts, i consider us lucky for our injury statuses this season -- especially with our starters having played so many heavy minutes. no wonder Nicolas can't heal when he's playing 40 minutes a night. it amazes me that a guy like Joel has four straight good performances off the bench, then one game, then he's at the end of Stotts' bench again. i don't much blame the guys for not being able to play that hard for that long; rather, it comes down to inadequate coaching.

    @Divotking: i know you're talking about Wesley, but what i find amazing is how inconsistent on offense he still is (sans the past couple of games), and that he seems not to be as reliable on defense as he once was (though his ankle still probably is a factor in that). anyway, i'm just not convinced he has improved enough as a whole to really rely upon. i mean, lets face it, he's our fourth or fifth option on offense; not all that impressive.

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 3/22/2013 9:02 PM
  14. Kass;
    Did you watch the game? Tonight Wesley completely took Korver out of the game. Was in his chin all night. All the while keeping Portland in the game with his shooting and penetration. Lets face what?

    by Divotking on 3/22/2013 9:13 PM
  15. Considering how beat up he's been most of the season, I nominate Wes Mathews for the Blazers most inspirational player. He inspires simply by being on the floor and giving everything he's got every minute he's there.

    by dgpdx on 3/22/2013 9:42 PM
  16. @Divotking: to directly answer your question; no; i was driving at the time. however, if you read my comment again, you'll see that when i mentioned Wesley, i put "sans the past couple of games" in parenthesis. essentially, i was saying that he's played well in tonight's game, as well as last night's game. of course, according to Wheels, it was Nicolas who did the bulk of the defensive job on Korver. nevertheless, please read my entire comment before challenging me in a response.

    ~ KMM

    by Kassandra on 3/22/2013 10:02 PM
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