Bulls hit the deck at Moda Center -- Lillard, too
The Chicago Bulls got decked Friday night at the Moda Center, and so did Damian Lillard.
The Bulls got plastered by the Trail Blazers, and Lillard got clobbered by Mike Dunleavy Jr.
The latter moment seemed to overshadow another strong Portland performance in a 105-87 shellacking of the shorthanded Bulls.
Lillard continued on the torrid pace that earned him last week's Western Conference player of the week award, collecting 21 points, nine assists and six rebounds despite sitting out the entire fourth quarter as the Blazers (9-3) won their sixth game in a row.
It was a flagrant foul by Dunleavy on Lillard, however, that drew the attention of the media's microphones, recorders and cameras afterward.
Portland led 63-45 early in the third quarter when Lillard spotted up for a 3-pointer in transition. Dunleavy -- the former Jesuit High standout and son of ex-Blazer coach Mike Dunleavy -- came running at the Blazers' All-Star point guard and gave him what amounted to a cross-body block, clipping Lillard in the chest and the side of his arm and knocking him to the floor.
As boos cascaded down from the stands, Portland's Wesley Matthews rushed at Dunleavy and shoved him. Then Chicago's Aaron Brooks -- the former Oregon guard -- charged at Matthews and shoved him. Other bodies rushed toward the group but order was quickly restored. After watching a video review, lead referee Bill Spooner issued a flagrant foul to Dunleavy and technicals to Matthews and Dunleavy.
Dunleavy told the media afterward he "felt bad" about the play and called Lillard "a nice kid. I have nothing against him," he said.
The 14-year NBA veteran explained he had seen teammate Joakim Noah go to the floor seconds before and was merely trying to stop play with an intentional foul.
"Lillard went up to shoot, and it was one of those things where I got put in an awkward position," Dunleavy said. "I had to foul him hard because I didn't want to give up a four-point play. At that point, what do you do? I'm not going to go for his legs or head. I just kind of (went) through his body."
Without hearing Dunleavy's explanation, nobody on the Blazers' side was anything but unhappy about the play afterward.
"It was unnecessary," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "I don't know what Mike was thinking. To take out a shooter like that in a defenseless position was uncalled for. It's hard to explain."
"If you're frustrated, all right, be frustrated," Matthews said. "But a defenseless player shooting the ball -- anything can happen."
Lillard, who said he had no previous relationship with Dunleavy, had one word for the play.
"Cheap," he said. "That's the best way (to describe it). I've had worse things happen, but that was the last thing I was expecting on a wide-open 3-point shot. It was a cheap play. I don't know what else to say about it.
"When I was shooting the ball, I saw him coming toward me fast, and I thought, 'He's not stopping.' So I let the ball go, and I was thrown to the ground. I didn't understand why. That was cheap."
Stotts said he appreciated Matthews coming to Lillard's defense.
"In these situations," the third-year Portland coach said, "you have to stick up for your teammates."
Lillard called it "kind of a defining moment," comparing it to an incident involving Portland's Joel Freeland and Golden State's Andrew Bogut last season.
"Tonight wasn't on that level," Lillard said, "but we have a pretty tight group. Wes felt like it was unnecessary, so he jumped in. I appreciate that, but I don't expect nothing other than that from him."
The game? It was all Blazers from the opening tip.
Portland jumped to an 18-3 lead against the Bulls (8-5), who lost 103-88 at Sacramento Thursday night and were without their two best players, point guard Derrick Rose (hamstring) and power forward Pau Gasol (calf) along with guard Kirk Hinrich (chest contusion). It got even worse for the Bulls when Taj Gibson, who moved into the starting lineup with Gasol's absence, went down with an ankle injury in the third quarter.
The Blazers' advantage was 61-43 at halftime and 89-61 late in the third quarter. At that point, garbage time was on.
"We took care of business from the jump," said Matthews, who contributed 12 points, four assists and three rebounds. "It was one of our better defensive nights and a good all-around performance."
Portland's starting five was superb. At one point, the starters were a combined 21 for 29 from the field.
"That group had it rolling pretty well at both ends," Stotts said.
Portland fired at a .610 clip and held Chicago to .319 shooting in the first half. The numbers tamed by game's end -- the Blazers finished at .494, the Bulls .361 -- but you get the idea.
"There was some fatigue on the part of the Bulls," Stotts said. "They were missing three of their main guys, and they seemed a little tired from last night.
"But I liked our demeanor. I liked our disposition, the way we came out of the gates. The offense came and went, but the defense was solid all night."
Lillard made the most of his time on the court Friday, sinking 7 of 9 shots from the field, 4 of 4 from 3-point range and 3 of 3 at the line in his 26 minutes. He watched from the bench with his fellow starters the entire final period.
"Damian was very efficient offensively," Stotts said. "To score 21 points on nine shots -- it doesn't get much better than that."
When Lillard started the season shooting 11 for 41 in the first three games, he heard questions about his performance, much to his irritation. Since then, the third-year pro is shooting .543 from the field and averaging 23.3 points. Lillard has scored 20 or more points in five straight games.
"I'm feeling really comfortable," he said. "Everybody was talking about the first three games, and I kept saying, 'I'm just going to stick with it, keep playing, keep going to the gym and getting my work in and focusing on the team.'
"I'm still doing the same thing. Now the ball is going in. I'm just finding the spots on the floor where I can attack and make a play and impact the game."
Lillard is shooting an identical percentage -- .476 -- from the field and 3-point range.
"He's running the team, making good passes and knocking down that 3-ball," backup point guard Steve Blake said. "It's fun to watch."
The Blazers, 8-1 at home, head out for a three-game road trip that begins Sunday at Boston.
"We're ready," Blake said. "We're playing really well. We're winning games the right way -- moving the ball, solid defense. Everyone's stepping up. Our go-to guys (Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge) are doing what they're supposed to be doing, and the rest of us are fitting into our roles."
Matthews sounded a warning.
"We can't be content," he said. "No matter who you're playing against, it's always tougher on the road. We have to bring that energy we've been playing with on the road with us. We have to continue to play defensively. Sometimes your shot doesn't come with you, but you can always leave an impact on the game defensively."
NOTES: Aldridge contributed 16 points and nine rebounds in 28 minutes. He played longer than the other Portland starters. Small forward Nicolas Batum, who missed the previous four games with a knee contusion, had nine points on 4-for-6 shooting and three rebounds in 21 minutes. "I was just trying to go out there and get my rhythm back, get back into game shape," Batum said. Added Stotts: "It was good to have him out there. I thought he played better the second half. He showed a little bit of rust, but it felt like we had our team back." The only Bull who showed much life was Nikola Mirotic, the 6-10 rookie from Serbia, who came off the bench for season highs in points (24) and rebounds (11). Brooks was the only other Chicago player to score in double figures with 12 points. Guard Jimmy Butler, who entered the night with a 21.5-point average, scored nine points on 3-of-13 shooting. Portland shot .563 (9 for 16) on 3-point attempts. The Blazers were without reserve guard CJ McCollum, expected to miss a month with a broken finger. Portland has limited the opposition to under 90 points five times after accomplishing the feat only seven times during all of last season.
Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau was an assistant coach with the U.S. national team last summer and worked with Lillard during the tryouts. "He's terrific," Thibodeau said. "There's nothing he can't do. He's smart. He knows how to get places on the floor. He has made great strides defensively. I liked him when he was in college, and he's gotten better and better. We have a lot of elite point guards in the league, but he is right in there with the top group." The Blazers entered the game ranked third in the league in opponents' field-goal percentage (.420) and sixth in opponents' scoring (95.9). "They're well-balanced," Thibodeau said. "They're great on offense, and they've been great on defense. (On defense) they're into the ball, they have size at the rim, they have a multiple-effort mentality. When you're talking about competing for a championship, you have to be strong on both sides of the ball. They're showing that."
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