10 observations: Bulls unravel in 2nd half, fall to Trail Blazers

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10 observations: Bulls unravel in 2nd half, fall to Blazers originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Chicago Bulls looked well on their way to an 11-4 start to the season on Wednesday night in Portland.

But a dominant first-half effort, which saw them build as much as a 20-point lead on the back of sharp shooting and disruptive defense, quickly devolved into defeat as the Trail Blazers stormed back to win 112-107 on their home court.

Here are 10 observations:

1. The Bulls got off to a hot start shooting the basketball, sprinting out to a 15-6 advantage in the first four minutes and leading 33-24 after the first. They shot 6-for-10 from 3-point range in the opening frame, getting 11 points (3-for-3 from 3-point range) from Zach LaVine, 10 points (on 5-for-8 shooting) from DeMar DeRozan and six points (2-for-2 from 3-point range) from Lonzo Ball.

2. Portland, meanwhile, did not. The Bulls held their lauded starting backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum scoreless in the first quarter on combined 0-for-5 shooting. Credit Ball (on Lillard) and Alex Caruso’s (on McCollum’s) brilliance on-the-ball, plus Derrick Jones Jr. on switches late in the period after he checked in at center.

That drought extended until the 5:13 mark of the second, when Lillard scored on an Alize Johnson goaltend. At the half, Lillard had all six of the duo’s points, and they combined to shot just 1-for-10 from the field. By game’s end, even with the comeback, they had 31 points on 10-for-32 shooting between them.

3. The Bulls opened up as much as a 20-point lead in the first half, dominating at both ends of the floor. But the free-throw line kept Portland alive. The Trail Blazers visited the charity stripe 18 times in the opening two quarters, making 17 of those tries, while the Bulls went 3-for-4 from the line. 

Still, the Bulls shot nearly 20 percentage points better from the field and 3-point range, forced 11 turnovers and scored 14 fastbreak points, leading 63-48 at the break.

4. But the Bulls completely let go of the rope in the third quarter, committing 10 turnovers (three apiece from DeRozan and LaVine) and watching what was a 20-point first-half lead dwindle to four entering the fourth. The Trail Blazers fed off the Moda Center crowd’s energy to boot, shooting better than 54 percent from the field, hitting four of nine 3-point attempts and getting nine in-rhythm points from Powell to raucous ovation. 

“It wasn’t like they really change anything defensively,” Donovan said of the turnovers. “We just got careless. We tried to throw the ball into areas of the floor we didn’t need to. They obviously got more aggressive. But we handled everything fine and generated good shots and shot a high percentage in the first half. But I thought they picked up their intensity, give them credit, and we did not match it.”

LaVine and Ball both used the word "lackadaisical" to describe the team's second-half ball security.

By the 7:43 mark of the fourth, the hosts tied it 91-91; just over 40 seconds later, a McCollum 3-pointer gave them the lead.

5. A Lillard 3-pointer with 4:14 to play put the Trail Blazers ahead 102-98. Out of a timeout one possession later, a complete defensive breakdown by the Bulls, which Donovan attributed to a botched switch, left Jusuf Nurkić wide open for a dunk to make it 104-98.

Two transition layups by Ball appeared to staunch the bleeding, cutting the deficit to 104-102. Lillard followed with a lay-in, but LaVine responded with a nice sequence where he drilled a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer, forced a stop on Lillard on the other end, and drove for a bucket off an offensive rebound by Caruso to put the Bulls in front. 

But a Lillard drive past Ball proved to be the final lead change. DeRozan slipped and flung up a wild miss with 12 seconds to go, then LaVine missed a wide open 3-point try to tie it with 6.5 seconds left. Donovan called LaVine's look “the shot we wanted to get there,” and it was generated with a beautiful after timeout play design. It just didn’t drop.

6. LaVine said postgame he wasn’t surprised he was open for that final attempt, but was surprised he missed it. He buried a season-high seven 3-pointers (on 12 attempts) for the night, scoring 30 points and coming up with a few big buckets down the stretch. But he also shot 3-for-10 in the fourth and drew a costly technical for yelling at an official after hitting a 3-pointer that put the Bulls ahead 95-94 at the 6:16 mark.

“I don’t feel like talking about free throws or technicals,” LaVine said when asked about the sequence. “My emotions got the best of me.”

7. Derrick Jones Jr., the team’s de facto backup center with Nikola Vučević sidelined, committed four fouls in nine first-half minutes (and picked up a fifth midway through the third). Tony Bradley had three. That necessitated the use of Alize Johnson, and even Javonte Green, at center in at times uber-small lineups at the end of the second and third quarters.

Though Jones Jr. continues to impress as a stopgap center — he blocked a key shot inside the final minute, and played all of his fourth-quarter minutes with five fouls — the Trail Blazers did attack the undersized Bulls on the interior down the stretch. And he needs to cut down on the fouls; Jones Jr. picked up five in 16 minutes against the Lakers as well.

8. DeRozan was brilliant in the first half, pouring in 15 points on 7-for-12 shooting, but cooled considerably as the game wore on. He went without a field goal in quarters three and four, shooting 0-for-7 (0-for-5 in the fourth) with an uncharacteristic four turnovers.

“I liked the shots he got. I’ve watched him all year long be really, really efficient,” Donovan said. “Sometimes it happens. These guys are human, and as great as they are offensively, there are gonna be nights where they don’t shoot the ball particularly well.”

9. The Trail Blazers gave the Bulls a taste of their own medicine in a few different facets, scoring 29 points off 15 turnovers (outscoring the Bulls 18-2 off turnovers in the third quarter) and out-attempting them 28-20 from the charity stripe. They also shot 8-for-19 from 3-point range after wallowing at 25 percent in the first half.

“The things that allow comebacks like that, in my opinion, is the free-throw line, giving up 3s and turning the ball over,” Donovan said. “And that really hurt us.”

10. This was a peak Caruso game in a few respects. He notched a near-triple double with 12 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds (four offensive), plus two steals and two blocks. On the glass, in passing and driving lanes, and defending on-the-ball, his capacity to do little things that make a big impact were on full display.

But as terrific as the Bulls looked to start, it didn’t sustain for 48 minutes.

"It was a game I felt we should have won," said LaVine. "You want to learn some lessons, but not with stuff like this where you feel you gave one away."

Next up: The Bulls look to come out of the West Coast trip 3-2 at the Denver Nuggets on Friday.

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