The Chicago Bulls started off their night against the Portland Trailblazers well before slowly falling apart on both ends over the course of the game and eventually collapsing down the stretch to lose 88-77. The loss means that the Bulls will not play in the summer league championship tournament and that their title defense has effectively ended in disappointing—but not necessarily surprising—fashion. Denzel Valentine continued to struggle on both ends of the court, and though Antonio Blakeney had another solid individual scoring performance, but it wasn’t enough to make up for Chicago falling apart at the end of the game.
The game began with the news that Lauri Markkanen would sit due to a left big toe injury. Despite Markkanen’s absence, the Bulls’ offense actually looked fairly fluid in the early going, ripping off a 12-0 run at one point during the first quarter to build a nine point lead. Though Antonio Blakeney contributed most of the points, Valentine and Ryan Arcidiacono both did a good job of keeping the ball moving to keep the Blazers’ defense off balance. Defensively, Chicago had perhaps their best quarter of the entire summer league thus far, limiting Portland to just 4-21 shooting from the field and forcing seven turnovers in the first ten minutes. Overall, it was an excellent team effort from the Bulls to start the game, and the team concluded the first quarter with a 19-12 lead.
From there, it gradually went down every quarter for Chicago. Though the Blazers went on to outscore the Bulls for the remainder of the half, Chicago managed to maintain most of their lead thanks to some aggressive offensive play from Blakeney and some hot outside shooting off the bench from Brady Heslip. Unfortunately, the rest of the team left something to be desired on offense, which did not bode well for the second half. The fact that Blakeney also had to lead the Bulls in rebounding on a night without Markkanen further foreshadowed bad things to come for Chicago in the second half. Nevertheless, the Bulls went into the locker room with a 42-35 lead.
Things finally started to unravel for Chicago during the third quarter. The Bulls finally lost their lead after remaining comfortably in front for most of the first half, and Jake Layman in particular killed the Bulls. He scored eight of Portland’s 26 points during the period while making a variety of key steals, rebounds, and passes. Meanwhile, the Bulls couldn’t get anything going on offense other than the occasional contribution from Blakeney. Duje Dukan—a late summer league addition and son of Bulls’ international scout Ivica Dukan—was noticably bad during this period, missing all of his shot attempts and just not doing anything to help the Bulls’ offense get in a consistent rhythm. As a result, the Bulls entered the final quarter of play tied at 61-61.
The game remained close until the final five minutes, when Portland played their best basketball of the night on both ends. The Blazers ripped off a 16-3 run over the next 4:30 to close out the game, which included two back-breaking back-to-back threes by R.J. Hunter. Fans may recall Hunter was cut by the Bulls last season after only appearing in three games between October and December of 2016, so this had to be a sweet bit of revenge for Hunter even if it came in summer league. Eventually, the Bulls went on to lose by a final score of 88-77.
Denzel Valentine once again had a poor showing in summer league play, scoring 13 points on 5-13 shooting (2-7 from deep) with four turnovers, although he did have seven rebounds and four assists. Valentine still looked uncomfortable being asked to handle the majority of ball-handling duties for the Chicago offense, couldn’t drive around bigs when successfully forcing the defense to switch, and made a litany of questionable passing decisions. Antonio Blakeney led the Bulls in scoring for the second game in a row with 27 points, but only shot 7-17 from the field and converted merely 11 of his 17 freethrow attempts. The Bulls offense once again finished with more turnovers (15) than assists (14), and Chicago as a team got out-rebounded by Portland 46-31, with Jarnell Stokes inhaling 17 boards of his own for the Blazers.
The Bulls were playing for the 16th seed in the summer league tournament tonight, and would have faced the #1 overall seeded Toronto Raptors had they won. Instead, Chicago should have one final summer league consolation matchup before heading home from Las Vegas, though no word yet on when that will be.