The Blazers hadn’t lost in Chicago since March 26, 2007. Wanting very much to keep a good thing going, the Blazers came out and held the Bulls to their second-lowest point total of the year, surviving LaMarcus Aldridge’s nonexistent offense and putting the hammer down on Chicago, 91-74.
This was a weird game by the stats, but just a flat-out a GREAT game to watch. Remember how flummoxed the Blazers would get whenever the defense would swarm them? Well, somebody must have said, “Duh, gee boss, if it works on us then maybe we should try it on someone else!”
Quicker than you can say, “you’re a genius, you idiot,” the Blazers became the buzzing, pestering defensive presence you’d always seen frustrate the Blazers into coughing up turnovers and wandering into traps, making life hell for the poor Bulls and holding Joakim Noah to just 11 points on 5-12 shooting. When the Bulls tried to take seemingly open threes, the Blazers closed out quickly enough to affect the shot, if not by anything more than the threat that they might barrel into the shooter, which is exactly the kind of uncertainty you want to strike into an opposing team. The point isn’t that you make the block: it’s that you make them think they have to adjust their body, either to get the shot off or to protect themselves, just as the ball’s being released, forcing a change in mechanics and drastically increasing the chance of a miss.
On the offensive side, the Blazers remembered that they have a few guys that can hit threes. Even without Aldridge scoring (he had only 5 points, but added 14 boards and 4 steals), his threat looms large, sucking the defense ever so slightly away from the perimeter and giving the much-needed daylight that allow Portland’s backcourt to fire without shame. No player benefitted more than Mo Williams, who shot an amazing and uncharacteristic 7-12 for his 18 points. Wes Matthews (11), Nicolas Batum (13), Robin Lopez (13), and Damian Lillard (16) all helped to round out an egalitarian scoring attack.
All five Blazers that shot a three in this game hit at least one, and Portland finished at 45% from deep on 22 shots, looking much more like the team that won 11 straight than the team that has lost 9 of their last 15 games (which they have, despite the current 2-game winning streak).
Portland also sits, as of press time, 3 games AHEAD of 8th-place Phoenix, and 3.5 games BEHIND 4th-place Houston, who, by the way, may have just lost starting point guard and Damian Lillard harasser Patrick Beverly to a knee injury for the season. In a playoff race that’s tighter that a post-Thanksgiving day sweatervest, every game counts, and the Blazers made the very best of this one.
Besides the deep threes and thriving defense, Portland’s all-important (and heretofore elusive) mojo is back! In just 2 short games, the Blazers went from spiraling out of control, to looking very much like a team breaking out of a terrible slump, and frankly, if there is any time you want to learn a lesson and get a bunch of losses out of the way, it’s BEFORE the playoffs.
Portland has earned a day of rest before facing another defensive juggernaut in the Memphis Grizzlies (currently just 2.5 games behind the Blazers). This one will be at the Moda Center on Sunday at 6:00 p.m. PDT, and will also kick off the final 8 games of the regular season. Fortunately, 6 of those 8 games will be at home, and the crowd had sure better be into it, so expect a tough, slow, and thoroughly entertaining game.