The Portland Trail Blazers entered Friday night’s contest with an eight-game winning streak, which looked to be dead on arrival with the Bulls jumping all over a seemingly road-weary Portland squad to start the game. But a Moda Center-fueled comeback in the third quarter put the Blazers in position to defeat the Bulls 98-95 .
“It’s the best crowd in the NBA and we need them the rest of the season,” said Wesley Matthews. “It’s going to be a long ride hopefully. We’re geared up and we want them to be geared up. Every game should be like that.”
The victory extends Portland’s win streak to nine games and their overall record to 11-2. The win also gave Portland their fifth-straight victory against Chicago, a team that has not won in Portland since Feb. 2006.
“I thought that was as impressive a half of basketball as we’ve played at both ends of the floor,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Obviously, defensively we picked it up in the third quarter. I wish we’d played like that at the beginning of the game, but it’s good to know we have that in us. We can point to that as what we need to do more often. It was a great effort in the second half.”
Portland trailed 59-44 going into the third quarter, but a furious rally, lead by the all-around offensive exposition by Wesley Matthews and lockout defense resulted in the Trail Blazers outscoring Chicago 34-12 in the quarter to take a 78-71 lead into the fourth.
“We didn’t change any schemes – we just played harder, played better, played with more focus, more intensity, more attitude – all the things basically that Chicago did in the first half,” said Stotts of his team’s third quarter performance. “Our mindset and our approach to the game in the second half was what we needed in against a team like Chicago that’s been through a lot together and they know how to compete at a very high level consistently. We did that in the second half.”
And there was one other facet Stotts didn’t mention: pride.
“There was intensity and pride,” said Nicolas Batum. “On this situation it’s not about basketball, it’s just about pride. They kick us. They kick us in the first half. Dominating the ball, they played harder than us, they wanted it more than us. So when we came back it wasn’t about plays and basketball, just who wants it more. Second half we got 34-12. You show it, we wanted it more than them.”
But even with Derrick Rose leaving the game toward the end of the third with an apparent right knee injury, the Bulls counter-punched, and hard, to start the fourth. Led by Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls outscored the Trail Blazers 24-10 in the first nine minutes of the final quarter to take a 95-91 lead with 3:15 to play. Back-to-back three-pointers by Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum and a long two-pointer from Matthews gave Portland a 96-95 lead with 1:37 to play.
The Bulls had numerous chances to take the lead with under 30 seconds to play, but neither Hinrich or Mike Dunleavy could find the the mark late, leading to a shot clock violation with 12 second to play. LaMarcus Aldridge, who struggled from the field all night, was fouled and sent to the line with seven seconds to play. Aldridge has had issues at time with late-game free throws, but that wasn’t the case Friday, as he made both from the line, giving the Blazers a three-point victory.
Matthews ended the game with 28 points on 12 of 19 shooting to go along with two rebounds and two steals. While he sparked Portland’s third quarter run, he also got off to yet another great start, scoring 10 points on four of six shooting in the first quarter. He is shooting 26-44 (59.1%) from the field and 15-for-25 from 3-point range (60.0%) in first quarters this season and has been even better in the past five games, going 18-for-27 (66.7%) from the field and 12-for-18 (66.7%) from beyond the arc.
Stotts said Matthews’ first 13 games of the 2013-14 season are the best he’s seen his starting shooting guard play.
“I just take it and roll with it and try to build on it,” said Matthews. “I appreciate the compliment. I appreciate that but I can’t settle. As soon as I settle, that’s when I get content and I’m not helping my team. My thing is I’m hungry all the time, I want to get better all the time. I watch film, see what I did wrong and try to be ready and do better tomorrow.”
Batum turned in a 17-point, eight-rebound, five-steal, three-assist performance while playing superb defense on Rose in the third quarter. Batum is the fifth NBA player this year to record at least 17 points, eight rebounds and five steals in a game (Anthony Davis, Josh Smith, Loul Deng, Stephen Curry).
Lillard bounced back from a slow start to end the night with 20 points, six assists and two rebounds. Robin Lopez kept Portland hanging on in the first half with nine points and nine rebounds and finished the game with a 13 points and 16 rebounds, a career high. double double.
“Robin was fantastic,” said Stotts. “He, obviously, was a presence in the paint. He got whatever rebounds he got – 16, but he kept pursuing the ball. Even the ones he didn’t get, he kept balls alive. He just plays hard. He’s a team guy and he wants to do what we need him to do.”
Next up, the Trail Blazers travel to Oakland to face the Golden State Warriors Saturday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 PM on CSNNW and 620 AM.
“Obviously we want to win games,” said Stotts. “Having the winning streak is nice and everything, but I think the way we’re approaching is just win the next game.”