The Bulls only led 28-27 after the first quarter, but their offense looked about as fluid as it has all season.
At the heart of that was the team's starting backcourt pair of Tomas Satoransky and Zach LaVine. Satoransky ended the quarter with seven points and three assists and was a regular entrant to the painted area by way of pick-and-roll with Wendell Carter Jr. (Satoransky had two floaters and a pull-up short-midrange jumper off that action alone).
LaVine, for his part, came out of the gates locked in on both sides of the floor. On the defensive end, he picked up Damian Lillard before the halfcourt line on multiple occasions and ended the frame with a steal and a block. On offense, he was always on the attack, finishing two dunks, ripping a catch-and-shoot three off an inventive action that started with him setting a pick for Satoransky and firing two crosscourt skip-pass assists to corner 3-point shooters.
The team shot 10-for-20 (50%) from the floor in the first and 4-for-11 from 3-point range with six assists. Not mind-bending numbers by any stretch, but the process inspired confidence, if only for one period.
Jim Boylen leaned on LaVine throughout the first, playing him 11:46 of a possible 12 minutes, and the offense clearly benefited from it. That - along with a lot of things - went awry in the second quarter, when LaVine ran into a bit of foul trouble and logged only four minutes. He finished the night with 18 points on 6-for-13 shooting.
Second-quarter streaks doom the Bulls
Boylen has spoken ad nauseum about the importance of limiting streaks. Streaks doomed the Bulls in the second quarter after an uber-competitive opening frame.
The Blazers opened the quarter with an 8-2 run on an all-bench unit of Kris Dunn, Coby White, Ryan Arcidiacono, Thad Young and Daniel Gafford (that run ballooned to 14-4 even after Boylen subbed Satoransky, LaVine and Markkanen back in). The offense looked completely stagnant. Dunn, specifically, missed five 3-point attempts in the second period, almost all of them wide open.
Down 50-37, though the Bulls did claw their way back into the game with an 11-0 run of their own (to make the score 50-48) over the course of only 1:26 of game time. That run was led in large part by Lauri Markkanen and Denzel Valentine - both of whom the UC was ebullient to see performing well. Markkanen canned two open long-range looks in the first half and finished an and-one to cut the Blazers' lead to four. Valentine scored seven points in the period and forced a turnover on Skal Labissiere.
The Blazers, though, then closed the quarter on a 12-6 run - a run aided by a couple of defensive lapses in transition by the Bulls - and led 62-54 at half. Things proceeded to really get away from Chicago in the third: Portland won that quarter 30-18 (winning the second and third by a score of 65-44, overall). They never looked back.
Side note: Aside from that spurt, Markkanen finished the night with 10 points on only seven shots. Not good.
A massacre on the boards
I wrote before the game that the frontcourt was an area the Bulls might look to grab an edge on the Blazers. At the time, it didn't feel completely misguided. The Blazers, after all, are missing their two most skilled bigs in Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic and entered the game dead last in the league in Reb% and DReb% in the NBA.
But boy was I wrong. The Blazers ended the night with a 61-44 (13-8 offensive rebound) advantage on the glass. It was by far the greatest disparity in the final box score.
Hassan Whiteside - who Boylen warned media of pregame - was especially dominant. He had 13 points, 12 rebounds, and two thunderous blocks (though it felt like more) on the night, and at separate times appeared to beef with both Wendell Carter Jr. and Daniel Gafford.
For tonight, advantage Whiteside and the rest of the Blazers frontcourt, whose dominance sucked the energy out of the Bulls in multiple other areas throughout.
Melo looked vintage
Carmelo Anthony finished his grand, ceremonious ~return~ to Chicago with 25 points and eight rebounds on 10-for-20 shooting (4-for-7 from 3).
No, it's not 2009.
In a performance that reflects equally the feel-goodness of Anthony's arc and a nauseating defensive showing by the Bulls, Melo was positively electric. He head-burrow jab-stepped his way to his best game in years, even dunking on Carter mid-way through the third (to raucous approval by Bulls, Blazers, Syracuse and Nuggets fans scattered around the arena). In the locker room after the game, I was surprised that his temple wasn't bruised from stabbing it repeatedly with his fingers curled in a ‘three' shape.
As a cherry on top of the evening, with 6:33 left in the fourth quarter - with the home side trailing by 26 - an emphatic "Bring Back Melo" chant broke out at the UC. Your 2019 Bulls, ladies, and gentlemen.
Free hot dogs!
With 3:54 left in the game, the Blazers' Moses Brown bricked two free throws, and in the process won all ticket-holders for the evening free hot dogs. A fun silver lining in a soul-crushing defeat.
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