PORTLAND—Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler celebrated after the Marquette connection linked up for an alley-oop dunk, in the most unconventional way in an unconventional ballgame.
In effect, the game was over before it began, as the Bulls made dished out a shocker to the Portland Trailblazers to start off their circus trip with an impressive 113-88 win at the Moda Center Tuesday night.
When the Wade-Butler connection happened, things were well on their way to the resounding victory, mostly done on the defensive end. The Bulls held the Blazers to 36 percent shooting overall as the Blazers missed their first 11 shots from the field, leading to a 21-point first quarter lead that ballooned to 25 before halftime.
“I think it was our most complete game that we played,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Like I told the guys, I thought it started in shootaround this morning. I could tell they were locked in. They were energetic. They were locked in when we were talking about the gameplan.”
Without Rajon Rondo, who was out with an ankle injury, the Bulls had to run more of their offense through Butler—and things were trending that way anyways—and he took full advantage.
Butler dominated from start to finish, continuing his strong play that’s gone largely under the radar in this young season with 27 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. He didn’t win player of the week last week but in the last five games, few have been better, as he’s averaged 28.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 6.6 assists.
“I think year to year I've been in a different role,” Butler said. “Now the role is a little bit bigger than it was last year so I'm called to do a lot more on both ends of the floor. That's what the game tells you to do, that's the way the game goes. With the guys on the floor, they tell me what I have to do on the floor.”
[SHOP BULLS: Get a Dwyane Wade jersey right here]
Containing the high-scoring backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum was the Bulls’ biggest task, one that was passed easily.
They harassed the potent but miniature in stature backcourt, harassing them into missing 25 of their 39 shots. With Lillard and McCollum unable to get going, it put the other Blazers in the unenviable position of trying to create on their own, which only made matters worse.
“Some nights you're gonna get burned by that, you'll have Amir Johnson hit four threes in the third quarter,” said Wade, referring to the Bulls’ first loss of the season in Boston, when Johnson unexpectedly lit up the Bulls from the three-point line. “And then some nights like tonight, they were missing and we rebound and go. We did our game plan that we've been trying to do all year, which is take their main guys out and tonight it worked for us.”
They forced up bad shots just because they were open, playing right into the Bulls’ hands. Through three quarters, the Blazers shot just 35 percent and missed 20 of their 26 3-pointers.
The Bulls surrounded Lillard with Jerian Grant, who replaced Rondo in the starting lineup.
Grant’s length and quickness played a part in Lillard missing his first seven shots and he joined the brigade of handsy Bulls who like to get their hands in the passing lanes for steals along with Grant’s willingness to be aggressive offensively.
“It really started with Jerian,” Hoiberg said. “I thought he was terrific guarding the ball. That’s one of the toughest covers in the league with Lillard, as hot as he can get. He set the tone for our defense with his ball pressure.”
Hitting two triples in addition to getting out on the break, Grant looked comfortable playing with Wade and Butler as he wasn’t burdened with the task of running the offense.
He spaced the floor, defended and attacked when he had openings, finishing with 18 points.
All five Bulls starters scored in double figures, as the Bulls dispatched the Blazers by barely breaking a sweat.