It looked like the Bulls were going to start their four-game West Coast trip in ugly fashion. They gave up 39 points and eight 3-pointers in the first quarter in Portland. The deficit was 20 points early in the second quarter after the Blazers hit two more triples.
But instead of rolling over like they did in their other blowout losses this season, the Bulls battled back and kept battling to earn an impressive 111-108 victory, making them the first team this season to win a game after going down by 20. It’s their fourth win in five games after starting 0-3, getting them to .500 on the season. A win over the Kings on Wednesday would put the Bulls over .500 for the first time since early March 2017.
Zach LaVine came out after the game and flat-out said the Bulls wouldn’t have won this game last season, and it’s hard to argue with him. Even after their awful start on both ends of the floor in this game, the Bulls kept competing and chipped away and chipped away. Even when it looked like the Blazers may run away in the second half when they went back up 12 late in the third quarter, the Bulls immediately got right back into it thanks to a surge from Garrett Temple.
The Bulls finally got over the hump and took their first lead of the game midway through the fourth quarter on a 3-pointer by, you guessed it, Temple. Then in the final seconds after the Blazers turned a six-point deficit back down to one after five straight Damian Lillard free throws, LaVine made it LaVine Time on Dame’s court after struggling with his shot all night:
Lillard answered with a ridiculous 3-pointer of his own after missing eight consecutive triples (he hit his first two of the night), but Coby White knocked down two free throws and Carmelo Anthony missed a game-tying attempt.
This was truly a team effort, with no one player standing out. Coby White led seven players in double figures with 21 points, and while he didn’t have the best shooting night (8-of-19 overall, 2-of-7 from 3), he stuffed the stat sheet with a career-high 10 rebounds and five assists.
LaVine only had 18 points on 6-of-18 shooting from the field and 3-of-10 from long range, but he made it a point all game to get others involved and racked up nine assists. He was honestly a bit too pass-happy early on, giving up open looks and forcing passes to teammates, but it’s hard to complain too much about him trying to make plays for others on an off shooting night.
Patrick Williams added 14 points and hit a pair of big 3-pointers as the Bulls battled back in the middle of the game, and he hit his patented push shot to tie things up late in the fourth quarter, kickstarting an 8-0 run. Fellow frontcourt mate Wendell Carter Jr. was in some foul trouble early, but he still wound up with a decent game of 13 points and five assists going up against an absolute wild man in Jusuf Nurkic.
Then there were the veterans, who have been crucial in this run of competent play. Temple, Otto Porter Jr. and Thaddeus Young all played huge roles in this game, and all three were on the floor to close out the game as Billy Donovan again went to a small lineup with Young at the 5 to finish.
It was the vets who helped spark the 13-0 run in the second quarter after going down 20 points, with a much-improved effort level on defense helping force the Blazers into a lengthy scoring funk. Portland scored just 15 points in the second quarter after the 39 in the first.
Then, as mentioned earlier, Temple single-handedly got the Bulls back in the game when they went down 82-70 with just over three minutes to play in the third quarter, with a pair of triples and a difficult mid-range shot to finish out the frame. The veteran had 14 points on 5-of-10 from the field and 4-of-9 from 3-land, and he did a heck of a job hounding both Lillard and McCollum after they got off to hot starts.
Porter continued his strong play to start this season with 19 points (7-of-14 shooting, 4-of-7 from 3) and 13 rebounds, and he was also getting after it on both ends of the floor. A motivated and healthy Porter is still a very good player.
Young had 10 points, eight rebounds and four assists, plus tough defense (took a pair of charges) and some key hustle plays. While he did take a few questionable shots in crunch time before LaVine’s dagger, Young’s stellar two-way play and ability to effectively play the 5 has been huge, and it’s clearly an alignment Donovan trusts late in games. It will certainly be interesting to see how things play out when Lauri Markkanen comes back and what this means for Carter’s development as well, but Billy D is coaching to win games right now, and these veterans are winning the Bulls games.
Also, I do have to give some credit to Denzel Valentine, who took some truly hideous shots but also battled on the boards with eight rebounds while also making some key dishes in the second half. Valentine was a team-best plus-10.
The Bulls admittedly did catch some breaks in the fourth quarter just like they did against the Mavericks, with the Blazers shooting 7-of-23 overall and a woeful 3-of-16 on 3-pointers in the final frame (they were 19-of-51 for the game). A number of those were great looks for Lillard and McCollum, so there were some dodged bullets, and Dame went just 2-of-11 from the field after the first quarter.
Still, the Bulls deserve plenty of credit for their uptick in defensive intensity after their sluggish start. Responding to adversity with hard-nosed play and smart, team basketball was really great to see, and this is easily the best win of the season out of the four so far. Also, I would be remiss not to mention that Jimbo apparently was hired as a consultant for the Blazers during training camp, so I’m counting this as a #REVENGEGAME for the Bulls.
Even on the second of a back-to-back, the Bulls have a great opportunity to get to 5-4 against a scuffling Kings team that just got punked by the Warriors and is dealing with some goofy off-court drama.