CHICAGO – There’s nothing like going home happy.
After starting a five-game road trip off 0-3, the Portland Trail Blazers finished strong Friday night with a 91-74 victory versus the Chicago Bulls in front 22,055 at the United Center.
“I’m really proud of the way we played tonight,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We stayed locked in and out defense was solid, we didn’t give up easy baskets to them … It’s good to get back-to-back wins here and after a good win last night.”
Chicago’s 74 points are the fewest Portland has allowed this season. The Bulls are now 0-11 this season when held under 80 points.
The Trail Blazers finish off their last multi-game road trip of the season with back-to-back victories after defeating the Hawks in Atlanta Thursday night. Portland sweeps the season series and has now won six-straight versus the Bulls and are 5-2 in their last seven games in Chicago.
Portland looked to be the fresher team despite playing their fourth game in five nights, which was even more impressive considering Chicago hadn’t played since Monday. The Bulls led for the first five and a half minutes of the first quarter, as neither team could find the mark early, but Portland would take their first lead after a Nicolas Batum three-pointer put Portland up 9-6 with 6:11 to play in the first quarter.
The Bulls would briefly take the lead again early in the second after starting the quarter on a 6-1 run, but it would be all Trail Blazers from there on out. Portland went on an 11-2 run between the 10:12 and 7:13 marks of the second thanks in part to three-pointers from Damian Lillard and Dorell Wright to take a 32-24 lead. Lillard, Wright and Mo Williams would combine to go 4 of 4 from three in the second quarter while the team shot 10 of 20 from the field to outscore Chicago 28-20 and take a 47-36 lead into the halftime intermission.
After gradually building a double-digit lead in the first half, Trail Blazers started the third on a 15-2 run. It was once again the three ball that did much of the damage, though this time it was Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews going 3 for 3 in the first three minutes of the half to help Portland take a 24-point lead, their largest of the game.
It would take a while, but the Bulls would respond with a run of their own, finishing the quarter by outscoring the Blazers 11-2 to cut the lead to 15 by the start of the fourth.
But rather than let the Bulls back into the game, Portland started the final quarter with another run, this one of the 9-1 variety, to push the lead back to 23 with 8:47 to play in regulation.
“We was able to jump out and take a pretty big lead,” said Lillard. “In the huddle once again we were saying. ‘Let’s keep them down. Keep our intensity up, keep our energy up.’ And they made a few shots and kind of dented the lead a little bit — I think they cut it to 14 or 15. We got it together, we tightened back up, we made things tough for them on the defense end, went down and executed and we made shots. Tonight we did a really good job of just playing a complete game.”
The teams would mostly trade scores from there on out, and with plenty of cushion, Portland would be able to put in the end of the bench with two minutes to play while coasting to a 17-point victory.
Six Trail Blazers scored in double digits Friday night led by Mo Williams, who played 25 minutes off the bench to finish with 18 points on 7 of 12 shooting.
“I thought Mo played terrific tonight,” said Stotts. “The way he played tonight was great because we needed his scoring and defense. It’s been well documented that usually when he scores for us, we win.”
Damian Lillard played 37 minutes and ended the game with 16 points on 6 of 14 shooting, four rebounds and four assists.
Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez each scored 13, with Lopez adding five blocks, nine rebounds and two steals.
“Our defense tonight was just an example of everyone being there for each other,” said Lopez. “When you know there is someone behind you, it gives you the confidence to be aggressive. That’s how I felt out there tonight. I’m impressed with how we played out there tonight. We want to continue that now.”
LaMarcus Aldridge, in his second game back after missing seven games with a lower back contusion, shot just 2 of 10 from the field for five points, although he did pull down 13 rebounds. But with the Bulls double-teaming the three-time All-Star, shots opened up on the perimeter for his teammates and hey responded by shooting 46 percent from three, easily their best percentage from distance during the road trip.
“They get more energy and they get more happy,” said Aldridge of his teammates when they’re getting clean looks thanks to double teams. “I think when teams double team me, I feel like guys pull over to the ball fast. I think guys are more locked in. When I have the ball, normally I’m going one-on-one and I’m always shooting it, but like tonight when they double team, I feel like my teammates were more engaged.”
With the win, Portland remains in fifth place in the Western Conference standings with eight games to play.
“Every game is critical now,” said Stotts. “The playoff positioning is not set. The last couple of games on the trip got away from this group. However, this team knows what it has to do. It’s easy to get caught up in emotions with the rollercoaster effect of wins and losses. You just can’t get too high or too low.”
Next up, the Trail Blazers return home to host the Memphis Grizzlies at the Moda Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 PM.