After the Bulls came up with two big wins in LA, they came out like gangbusters and were on the verge of running the Blazers off their home court on Wednesday night. The lead was 20 points toward the end of the first half, and it looked like the home team had zero interest in competing.
But then the Bulls totally let go of the rope in the second half, giving the Blazers life in the third quarter with 10 turnovers. A lead of 18 early in the third was whittled down to four heading into the fourth, and Portland took full control by going up six with 3:39 to play on a Jusuf Nurkic dunk off a blown coverage. The Bulls actually stormed back with one last push to take a 107-106 lead with 1:20 to go, but the Blazers closed on a 6-0 run, with Zach LaVine missing a WIDE-OPEN 3-point attempt to tie in the waning moments to ultimately suffer a 112-107 loss.
It’s hard to sugarcoat this defeat, even though the Blazers are a good home team (now 7-1 at home) and noting the fact that this was the Bulls’ third road game in four nights while playing shorthanded. Chicago was totally dominant in the first half and had zero business losing this game, but some home cooking kept the Blazers within striking distance (18-4 advantage in free-throw attempts in the first half), and then the Bulls took matters into their own hands to throw away this game in the second half.
In addition to all the turnovers (mostly in the third quarter), the Bulls only shot 35.1% from the field in the second half, with DeMar DeRozan missing all seven of his field goal attempts while looking gassed. His final shot attempt was a total debacle, as he slipped and then tried to force up a prayer over Nassir Little with the Bulls down 108-107. I don’t really know why Billy Donovan didn’t call a timeout once DDR slipped, but he didn’t. DeRozan finished with 22 points on 7-of-19 shooting after scoring 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting in the first half.
Even after that DeRozan miss, LaVine got himself one hell of a look to tie the game:
LaVine finished with a game-high 30 points on 11-of-20 shooting overall and 7-of-12 from 3-point range, and he also hit a couple big shots right before this miss to put the Bulls in position to win. Still, after an awesome first half on both ends of the floor, his play left a lot to be desired in the second half. As great a player as he is, he can still get way too panicky when the going gets tough. That showed in this game, and he also picked up a bad tech for complaining to a ref after a made 3-pointer in the fourth.
Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso were the only other Bulls in double figures. Ball had 17/4/4 and had several huge driving buckets late to keep things alive, while Caruso nearly had a triple-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists, two steals and two blocks. These two also did an admirable job on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, especially in the first half, but Lillard and McCollum were able to shake loose just enough in the second half. The Blazers’ star duo combined for 25 points in the second half after managing just six in the first half.
Arguably the biggest difference maker in this game, though, was Larry Nance Jr., who came off the bench to put up 16 points, nine rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block while posting a plus-10 in 25 minutes. His size gave the smaller Bulls some problems, and Nurkic also went to work as well with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Chicago really missed Nikola Vucevic in this one, with Tony Bradley being mostly awful, Derrick Jones Jr. being in foul trouble and Alize Johnson providing nothing in his two minutes.
This is a game where the Bulls being small hurt, as Portland won the rebounding battle (44-36), the points in the paint battle (50-42) and the second chance points battle (16-10). The Bulls did score 26 fast-break points to just nine for the Blazers, but that was also negated by free throws (27 makes to 16 in favor of Portland) and points off turnovers (29-17 in favor of Portland). Furthermore, Portland’s bench earned a 35-20 advantage, with Coby White again looking mostly unplayable in his return to the lineup. It’s clearly just going to take some time with him.
This loss is especially painful given the likely schedule loss coming up to finish this road trip in Denver on Friday. The Nuggets are missing key players, but a game in that altitude to close a long trip is often just death for a team. Perhaps the Bulls surprise us and bounce back with a win, but it’s going to be a tall order against Nikola Jokic and Co.
We’ll see what the Bulls are made of after gagging this one away.