Lillard scores 31 as Blazers close out Bulls 103-95
Damian Lillard scored 30 points for the sixth time in seven games, finishing with 31 points in a 103-95 victory over the Chicago Bulls. After a so-so first quarter, the Blazers led most of the game but needed everything they got from Lillard, as well as Mason Plumlee and Ed Davis. CJ McCollum failed to score in double-digits for the first time this season but finished with a team-high seven assists.
Even more than normal, Pau Gasol became priority No. 1 for the Blazers defense. Gasol delivered a monstrous line of 22 points, 16 rebounds, 14 assists, three blocks and a steal. But while Gasol and a couple of other Bulls had solid days at the office, the Blazers just had more. The Bulls were playing the second game of a back to back after losing to the Hawks on Friday. And just like Friday, Derrick Rose did not play. The Bulls added Rose to the injured list alongside Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic and Joakim Noah.
The start of this game was ugly with the first breakthrough coming via free-throws. The Blazers didn’t have it going at all offensively in the first few minutes. Lillard changed that. The Bulls did well to cut off his driving lanes but after running the offense didn’t yield good results, Lillard decided that he needed to take the game over to get the Bulls defense playing honest again. Lillard had 11 of Portland’s first 12 points after the Blazers fell behind 6-1 and looked like they were set to go down by double digits.
The Bulls bench, but mostly Doug McDermott, continued to play well while the few healthy vets the Bulls do have played well. However, the Blazers bench was stronger. When Meyers Leonard is playing well, they get up to another level and they were on that level tonight. Ed Davis brought his usual game and ditto for Gerald Henderson. Allen Crabbe hadn’t shot well recently but his production is rarely in doubt. The Blazers took the lead up to double digits and as high as 15 without McCollum making a shot. But the threat he presents, even when he is 0-for-8 like he was in the first half Saturday, it makes things easier for everybody else on the team. He dished a team-high xx assists.
Lillard continued his strong play but the Blazers as a whole exhibited the strong team play that they’ve had since just after Christmas. They were on a string defensively and perhaps having learned lessons after not running their offense in the second half against Houston, their execution and movement was stronger.
Then to start the second, McCollum finally broke through from the field. The Blazers looked like they were in control after Plumlee had a breakaway alley-oop dunk after a steal.
But the Bulls wouldn’t go away thanks to the play of back-up point guard E’Twaun Moore who was filling in for Derrick Rose. Moore had 15 of his 19 points in the third quarter, which went a long way in helping cut Portland’s lead to six points.
The Blazers bench continued to play well. Leonard kept his shot-making going and the rest of the Blazers bench regulars delivered. Although the play of Lillard was the most noteworth, Portland closed this game on the defensive end. Their bench pushed the lead back up to double-digits but the Bulls made one last run to close the game. Henderson and Davis were were huge down the stretch.
Portland closed the game with their defense as Plumlee and Davis were key down the stretch. Davis had five blocks and three assists to go along with his usual nine points and nine rebounds. Plumlee had one of his better scoring outings of the season, getting most of his work at the free-throw line where he went 8-for-11.
- I think the personnel and style of play was a reason why we saw more of Meyers Leonard tonight with eight points and eight rebounds. With a center like Gasol, the Blazers needed as many bodies as they could to bother him and the Bulls play two bigs for most of the game, few who can really shoot outside of Gasol. Harkless played only seven minutes but the Blazers will likely use him more in a tough match-up against Paul George. However, when Leonard does have it going, the Blazers really get to another level. Harkless has been consistent and if they can get the same from Leonard in addition to the production they’ve gotten from Crabbe, Davis and Henderson, they’re at another level.
- Saturday was also another good night for the hypothesis that Lillard and McCollum don’t have to make all of their shots to have an impact on the game. Lillard had it going all night but the Blazers took over the game with McCollum and the bench on the floor. McCollum was 1-of-12 from the field but the Blazers offense hummed anyway. Having a player who can demand that much attention on the court at all times is something a lot of teams wish they had. These guys are special.
- The Blazers and the 6th place Dallas Mavericks have identical records but the Mavericks hold the season tiebreaker as of right now. The Blazers have two meetings against Dallas on March 20 and 23. Those two games could decide whether the Blazers can avoid the Warriors or the Spurs in the first round.
- The Blazers have a quick turnaround and have to face the Pacers on Sunday at 3 p.m. pacific time.