The Trail Blazers cover boys lived up to their reputations Sunday night at the Rose Garden.
Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge are the veterans, the guys who are supposed to be the straws that stir the drink for the Portland contingent.
Thats precisely what happened as the Trail Blazers held off every Chicago challenge in a 102-94 victory over the Bulls.
Matthews and Batum each scored 21 points and Aldridge collected 18 points and a team-high 13 rebounds as Portland (5-5) won its third straight game.
Its good to be .500, said Terry Stotts, Portlands first-year coach. The important thing was winning at home and playing well, and the record takes care of itself.
The Bulls (5-5) arent the same without injured Derrick Rose, the NBAs Most Valuable Player two years ago who is recovering from knee surgery. Theyre still a game bunch, though, and despite playing the second of back-to-back nights following a 101-80 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center, they took the Blazers to the end before falling.
The Bulls are never going to quit, said Matthews, who made 9 of 15 shots from the field, including a put-back and a 3-pointer in the final quarter that stemmed the tide of a Chicago rally. They play hard every second of every game credit to them.
But its something we have to get better at. We let them back in, made it more of a game than it needed to be.
Matthews' rebound basket and trey gave Portland a 93-81 lead with 1:26 to go, but the Bulls with reserve guard Nate Robinson leading the way clawed back to within 98-94 with 13.9 seconds left before the Blazers put the game on ice.
It was a good win against a good team, said Batum, who was 6 for 13 from the field but 5 for 10 from 3-point range. We almost got one against the Clippers, San Antonio and the Hawks, but we got one tonight.
Batum scored 16 of his points in the second half, including nine on a trio of 3-pointers in a span of five minutes to start the third quarter.
He just busts out, said Stotts of Batum, who is averaging 20.8 points and shooting .408 on 3-point attempts. He has a lot of confidence in taking those shots. When he is on a roll, its impressive. He can throw nine points up pretty quick.
Portland led 64-49 midway through the third quarter, but Chicago rallied to draw even at 73-73. The Blazers responded with an 8-0 run and were in front 87-75 with 5 1/2 minutes remaining before the Bulls waged a comeback that fell just short.
Portland shot well .494 from the field and .409 from 3-point range and got double-figure scoring from six players, including Ronnie Price with 10 points. The backup point guard, who also had five assists in 20 minutes, became the first Portland reserve to score in double figures this season.
The Blazers also got a strong performance off the bench from veteran Jared Jeffries, who contributed four points and four rebounds, played good defense and took two charges.
Those two guys have stayed in the league for a long time doing what they do, Stotts said of Price and Jeffries. Ronnie played his best game of the season. Jared is a solid player who does all the little things that go unnoticed or at least, theyre not in the box score.
Portland entered Sundays play last in the NBA by far in bench scoring (12.4 points per game) and next-to-last in bench point differential (minus-23.1). But Price has a quarrel with those who contend the Blazer reserves arent doing their job.
When we come in the game and have three starters with us, the starters are not going to look to us to score, said the seven-year veteran, who is averaging 3.9 points and 1.5 assists in 15 minutes a game. Those are the guys were trying to get shots. Its our job to play defense, set screens and make the right plays. Most of the plays are going to be run for the guys who are meant to put the ball in the hole.
We do our role well. If we get in the game and are giving up buckets defensively, those are the stats people should look at. Then its a problem. But offensively, if the starters are in the game, we have to find them.
NOTES: Portlands next action is Wednesday night at Phoenix. ... Chicago shot .493 from the field but was only 4 for 16 on 3-point attempts and committed 19 turnovers that produced 26 Portland points. ... Joakim Noah filled up the box score with team highs in points (16), rebounds (15) and assists (8) for Chicago. ... Portland rookie Damian Lillard, who scored 16 points, is averaging 19.0 points and 6.1 assists. He is the first NBA player to average at least 19 points and six assists in his first 10 career games since Detroits Isiah Thomas in 1981. ... With Portland ahead 100-94 in the closing seconds, Lillard wound up with the ball in front court. He went in and dunked with no Chicago defenders around a no-no when the outcome is decided and fewer than 24 seconds remain. When I got the ball, I didnt know what to do, honestly, Lillard said. I didnt mean no disrespect to (the Bulls). Now I know to just dribble the ball out.
Nate Robinson was big for Chicago, scoring 18 points in a 19-minute reserve role. ... Portland activated guard Nolan Smith and deactivated forward/center Joel Freeland. ... The Blazers have won five in a row at home against Chicago. ... Aldridge had 15 points at halftime, but Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau switched Noah onto the All-Star power forward at halftime, and Aldridge had only three points in the second half. Before the game, Thibodeau said this about Lillard: Very impressive. His skill set makes him very hard to guard. His ability to shoot sets everything up. Hes very clever in the pick-and-roll. He plays with great poise for a rookie. He takes seven 3s a game. That sets up the drive. ... Thibodeau also had verbal bouquets for Batum. With his experience, he has gone to another level, the Chicago coach said. He is shooting the ball with a lot of confidence. He can put the ball on the floor, and he is very good moving without the ball. Each year, he has gotten better. He gives them another 20-point scorer.