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.