Good night from the Rose Garden
Some postgame notes …
The defense stood up, the bench contributed something more than sideline cheering and the team reached the .500 mark with the 102-94 win over the Chicago Bulls. Yes, it was a good night for the Portland Trail Blazers. In fact, coach Terry Stotts would call it a “complete” night.
“For the most part, that was probably one of our more complete games,” Stotts said. “They had a little stretch at the end of the first quarter to expand their lead, but once again, we competed. We got the lead by making a lot of shots and then they came back and withstood that. I was kind of proud of the way we played the full game.”
Good signs for the Blazers who didn’t break after the Bulls rallied from 15 down to tie the game 73-73 at the 10:50 mark of the fourth quarter. Ronnie Price, who was giving Damian Lillard a break, missed consecutive shots that would have broken the tie but finally cashed in with a step-back jumper to pull the Blazers ahead 75-73 with 9:43 remaining.
Then off a curl, Nicolas Batum hit a three and Sasha Pavlovic, of all people, led a three-on-one fastbreak and dropped the pass off to the trailer Price filling the left side. Price awkwardly laid it in, but they don’t give additional points for style and after all – he made the shot while taking a hit from Kirk Hinrich.
Price’s 3-point play was part of the Blazers 11-2 run that gave the team enough cushion while the Bulls responded with a late rally. However, with their star point guard Derrick Rose in Los Angeles still rehabbing his ACL, the Bulls did not have enough firepower. Chicago got within four points but that was with 13.9 seconds and one trip to the free-throw line for the Blazers would close the door.
Jared Jeffries played a season high 22 minutes, 19 seconds in the Blazer front line. Jeffries had four points and four rebounds but his greatest contribution of the night is a statistic that the NBA does not track. Still, the coaching staff loved watching Jeffries take two charges once again. During the Friday night win over Houston, Jeffries also absorbed the hits for a pair of charges.
Jeffries turns 31 next Sunday but even as the oldest Blazer he’s the one sacrificing his body the most by taking those charges.
“I feel good,” Jeffries said. “I’ve worked myself back into shape and I’ve been working out with the coaches and the training staff everyday.”
No words for Hickson
While Jeffries clocked 22 minutes, for the second night in a row, starting center J.J. Hickson played a lesser role down the stretch. Hickson logged just 24:38 and did not peel off the bench during the entire fourth quarter.
After the game, Hickson sat in front of his corner stall, ignored by all the reporters in the locker room who focused their attention on players like Batum, Price and Wesley Matthews. I walked over but Hickson wasn’t in much of a talking mood.
I asked Hickson how he was feeling, wondering if some injury had played a role in his benching, and he shook his head that he was OK. I asked if he knew why he was sitting near the end of games, he shook his head side to side. I asked how did he feel about the benching, and only the sound of Hickson rubbing lotion on his arms could be heard on my tape recorder as he once again nodded ‘no.’
“I don’t know what that means,” I said, trying to illicit a verbal response so that I wouldn’t misread him.
“No comment,” Hickson replied.
Speaking of a starter’s minutes…
Tonight, Price gave Damian Lillard a break. Lillard entered the game averaging 38.1 minutes but finished with only 32:15 because Price had his best game of the season (10 points, 5 assists)
“He was huge for us,” Lillard said, complimenting the man who shares a locker next to him. “I got a lot of rest because he played well. He made shots, he made plays for other guys and he really put a lot pressure on them defensively, diving on the floor and just stuff that we see him do all the time. It was good to see him do it in the game.”
Another good shooting night for Batum, who made five of his 10 attempts from beyond the 3-point line. Batum now has 31 for the season. According to stats provided by the Blazers’ communications department, Batum is the first Blazer since Cliff Robinson (1995) to hit at least 30 3-pointers in Portland’s first 10 games.
Blazers hold their fourth straight opponent under the 50 percent shooting clip. The Bulls shot 49.3% mostly due to close-range shots. Chicago dominated with 54 points in the paint.
LaMarcus Aldridge’s line looked like a traditional power forward: 18 points, 13 rebounds. It wasn’t a season high with rebounds – Aldridge had 15 against OKC on Nov. 2 – but it was a good night under the boards.
“He’ll say it’s the shoes,” Stotts joked. “He said he felt faster, but he was going after them. …We’ve been a decent defending rebounding team all year. LaMarcus went after them (tonight).”