Not a miracle, but something close as Blazers rally overhauls Bulls
The host team's comeback was startling, the visitors' collapse palpable.
A rousing success story for the Trail Blazers was a lost night for the Chicago Bulls.
Battered around like a piñata in a hurricane for a half, Portland stormed back with a third quarter for the ages, carrying the momentum to a 98-95 victory Friday night at the Moda Center.
Trailing 59-44 at the half, the Blazers (11-2) outscored the suddenly befuddled Bulls 34-12 in the third period, then made enough plays down the stretch to secure a ninth straight win and reaffirm their claim as the NBA's surprise team through the first month of play.
Then there were the Bulls (6-5), who may have seen their season go down the drain when Derrick Rose limped off the court and into the locker room late in the third quarter.
The league's 2010-11 MVP, who returned to action this season after ACL surgery on the left knee 18 months ago, will undergo an MRI Saturday after the Bulls arrive in Los Angeles, where they will play the Clippers on Sunday.
"He had pain and felt like he couldn't push off the right knee," Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said somberly as he met with the media afterward.
Conversely, everyone was all smiles in the Portland locker room after another win in this surprising string.
"Everything is coming together like we wanted to do," guard Wesley Matthews said, "and we still can get a lot better. We have to get a lot better.
"But this kind of game is great for us. We needed this game. We've won every kind of way. We've played almost every style of team now after playing Chicago, which is just a bully team. (The Bulls) played hard and they played physical. That's how they get stuff done."
Portland's triumph seemed improbable after what happened during the first half Friday night. The Blazers, returning home after their first 4-0 road trip in more than a decade, got pounded by the physical Bulls through 24 minutes of water torture.
Chicago outrebounded Portland 17-5 en route to a 32-22 lead after one quarter. The Bulls extended the margin to 48-27 midway through the second period before settling for a 59-44 bulge at intermission. At one point in the quarter, Chicago's edge in points in the paint (24-8) and rebounds (23-7) was almost laughable.
At intermission, Portland's top two scorers -- LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard -- had scored a combined eight points on 2 for 17 from the field. The Bulls blanketed Aldridge with double teams, played Lillard straight up with Rose and were in complete command.
"They took it to us," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "They were more aggressive to balls, more aggressive on rebounding, more aggressive on their drives. That's the way they play. I don't know if we realized we had to have that kind of energy."
"We knew if Chicago continued on unopposed," Portland center Robin Lopez said, "it was going to get embarrassing out there."
It all changed in the second half.
"We just got aggressive," said Lopez, as big a factor as any in the victory with 13 points and a career-high 16 rebounds. "We didn't want to be embarrassed on our home floor, especially after getting those wins on the road.
"We didn't want to cheat our home crowd to a letdown. We didn't want to cheat ourselves to a letdown. We knew it was do-or-die time in that period."
Added Portland's Nicolas Batum: "Everybody was talking, 'We have to wake up. They want to beat us. We have to show pride. We're better than this. Let's keep this streak going.' "
The dominance factor turned 180 degrees immediately. The Blazers had the Bulls on their heels from the outset of the second half, seizing their first lead of the game on the first of back-to-back Mo Williams 3-pointers at 71-70. When the smoke cleared, Chicago was 4 for 12 shooting with 10 turnovers in the quarter and Portland had a 78-71 advantage heading into the final period.
And suddenly the fans, quieted by the Bulls' early roll, were alive and rocking the Moda house.
"The crowd was into it," Stotts said. "We fed off the energy of each other and the crowd."
Even with Rose gone, Chicago regrouped and took the lead at 87-85 on a Luol Deng rebound basket with 4:39 to play. They stayed in front until Mathews -- who scored a game-high and season-high 28 points -- sank a set shot with 1:37 remaining to push Portland back in front 96-95.
(Matthews, incidentally, kept the possession alive with a Jerry Rice-worthy one-hand snag of a Lillard pass headed out of bounds.)
The Bulls, with starters Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah on the bench and evidently in Thibodeau's doghouse, wouldn't score again. Aldridge converted a pair at the line with 7.8 seconds left to make it 98-95, Deng's desperation 3 wasn't close as the horn sounded and a sellout Moda throng of 20,618 roared its approval.
"We responded like we're supposed to," Matthews said. "We turned it up, and we got a little bit lucky. They missed a couple of uncontested shots. But we played the right way and were able to get the win."
It was a tale of two halves. Chicago outrebounded Portland 31-18 in the first half; rebounds were 21-21 in the second half. The Blazers shot .333 (15 for 45) in the first half, .488 (21 for 43) in the second half.
"That was an impressive half of basketball we played at both ends of the floor," Stotts said. "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.
"We didn't change any schemes; we just played harder, played with more focus, more intensity, more attitude -- basically all the things Chicago did to us in the first half."
"It was about pride," Batum said. "They were kicking us in the first half. We came back. We wanted it more than they did."
Lillard picked it up after intermission, scoring 14 of his 20 points in the second half to go with six assists. Aldridge never got going, finishing with 12 points after a career-worst 4-for-20 shooting night.
The Blazers wouldn't have survived without Matthews or Lopez, who kept them from getting buried in the first half.
Matthews, on a season-long roll, sank 12 of 19 shots from the field, including 4 of 8 from 3-point range, on a night when the Blazers shot only .409 as a team.
"Wes' shooting speaks for itself, but he's playing very well at both ends of the floor," Stotts said of Matthews, who is shooting .548 from the field and .500 from 3-point range. "I don't run a lot of plays for him. Part of his (offensive success) is a function of how well we pass the ball. He reads the game and takes advantage of his opportunities."
"My success is the team's success," Matthews said. "We're rolling. I'm a rhythm player. I'm not going to get many sets called. Coach (Stotts) knows that. I know that. It has to be my energy."
Energy, too, was the key to Lopez's contributions. Chicago won the rebound battle no thanks to Lopez, who outboarded Bulls center Noah 16-2 and was a man possessed in pursuit of the ball.
"Robin was fantastic," Stotts said. "He was a presence in the paint. He kept balls alive. He plays hard. He's a team guy and wants to do what we need him to do."
"Robin's playing like an animal," Matthews said. "That's what we brought him in to do. We're actually putting too much pressure on him. Us guards have to keep people out of the paint. Our pick-and-roll coverage has to tighten up. We have to take some pressure off him trying to make him get every shot block or every rebound. But we defended better and rebounded better the second half."
The Blazers, who admittedly have played a soft early schedule, felt the win over Chicago helped validate their record.
The Bulls have "a reputation for stopping winning streaks," said Batum, who had 17 points, eight rebounds and five steals. "They did it with Miami last year, with Indiana this year. We knew it was going to be big for us if we win this one."
Portland goes into Saturday night's visit to Golden State with the third-best record in the league, behind only San Antonio and Indiana, both at 11-1. Stotts doesn't want the Blazers to get wrapped up in that or the win skein.
"We were looking at Chicago going into this game," he said. "Now we look at Golden State.
"We want to win games. Having a winning streak is nice. The way we're approaching it is, just win the next game."
But the Blazers, who haven't been in the postseason since 2011, are playing with a chip on their shoulder, Stotts said.
"We haven't proven anything," he said. "Indiana and San Antonio have done something. They have a body of work (in previous seasons). Nobody questions their record. Our mentality is to come out every night and play as well as we can and as hard as we can.
"In this league, you have to prove it every night. Especially for us. We don't have a player who played in the playoffs last year. We're coming off a 33-win season. We haven't really accomplished anything. We have to go out and prove it every night."
For now, at least, the Blazers feel bullet-proof.
"We feel we can win every game," Matthews said. "We feel like we're supposed to win every game."
NOTES: Told that Portland outscored Chicago in only one of four quarters, Stotts cracked, "In the CBA, that's a '4-3.' " Stotts, a former CBA player and assistant coach, meant that the Blazers would have been awarded four points in the standings (three points for the win, one for winning a quarter) to three for the Bulls (for winning three quarters). Was Portland's third quarter its best quarter of the season? "When you outscore (the Bulls) by 22 in a quarter, it'd be up there," Stotts said. Portland has won five in a row and has prevailed in 10 of its last 12 meetings with Chicago. The Blazers had a season-high 11 steals. Lopez tied his career high with eight offensive boards. On his career-high 16 rebounds: "It would have been meaningless if we didn't get the win." Chicago was playing the second of back-to-back games after a 97-87 loss at Denver Thursday night. Chicago's Jimmy Butler sat out his second straight game with an injured big right toe. Portland had six fast-break points, Chicago none. It's the first time the Blazers have not given up a fast-break point since Dec. 9, 2010 against Orlando.