It just wasn’t Nikola Mirotic’s night. As even casual observers of the Bulls the past three seasons know, there are games when Niko can’t miss, and there are others where he certainly can. Mirotic, who’s presence is so crucial for the shooting starved starting lineup, shot just 1/9 from the field in his 19 minutes, missing all five of this three point attempts. Thankfully for Chicago, as one power forward struggled, another had the best night of his young career. Bobby Portis, playing in his first postseason game, played with the confidence of a seasoned veteran.
Portis stuffed the box score Sunday night. He finished with 19 points, nine rebounds, three assists and a pair of blocks. His efficiency was completely off the chart, making 8/10 of his field goals and posting an effective field goal percentage of 95%. Portis’s 19 points were the second highest total for the Bulls, and his +12 on/off was a team high.
Half of Portis’s eight made field goals were pick and pop jumpers. After setting screens for Rajon Rondo or Dwyane Wade, Boston committed two defenders to stop the ball handler and completely abandoned Bobby on the perimeter. When the ball inevitably found the open Portis, he rose up with no hesitation and showed off his smooth shooting stroke.
Portis shot an excellent 47% on two pointers beyond 16 feet this season and raised his three point percentage to a respectable 33% after making just 31% of his attempts his rookie season. This clearly did not make Boston’s scouting report, as the Celtics foolishly overcommitted resources to try and prevent dribble penetration.
Fred Hoiberg stayed with the hot hand down the stretch. He recognized Portis was in a groove and trusted him to play the entire fourth quarter. Portis rewarded his coach by scoring eight points and making both of his three point attempts. But his contributions were not limited to the offensive end.
Portis played 29 minutes, the most he’s played since logging 31 a month ago against the Utah Jazz. But despite the extended run, Portis showed no signs of fatigue in crunch time. With less than three minutes to go, Portis hedged a screen to force a pass to the rolling Jae Crowder. Bobby was able to recover across the lane to meet Crowder at the rim and swat his shot away.
It was Bobby’s second block of the night and put the exclamation point on his outstanding performance.
Fred Hoiberg has already said that the starting lineup will not change for game two.
Hoiberg said the starting lineup won't change for Game 2 despite Portis' big night— Sean Highkin (@highkin) April 17, 2017
I agree with Hoiberg’s decision here. While Mirotic struggled to find his footing in Game 1, he knows that for the Bulls to have any chance of winning three of their next six games, he needs Mirotic to get hot. Niko is a seasoned professional and has played with great confidence since the beginning of March. It would be foolish to diminish his role after just one bad game.
But should Nikola continue to struggle, it’s good to know that the Bulls have another option at power forward who is unafraid of the moment.