The fourth quarter at the Moda Center is generally known as “Lillard Time” because Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard has created more than his share of magical moments in that building with his exploits.
But the Chicago Bulls had no plans on being on that next highlight package, going back to their gritty defensive ways to shut him down early and late en route to a 93-88 win Tuesday, concluding their three-game western swing at 2-1.
Lillard didn’t get the last shot, as his emerging backcourt mate C.J. McCollum did, catching Joakim Noah on a switch, as a 3-pointer would’ve tied the game and likely sent it to overtime.
But McCollum leaned into Noah and didn’t get a quality look, instead looking for help from officials that never came, tossing up a half-hearted miss that concluded matters and sealed one of the Bulls’ more impressive defensive showings of the season.
And it started with Derrick Rose’s defense on Lillard, as Rose returned from missing the last two games with a left ankle injury. Rose had his moments offensively, finishing with 17 points and six assists in 34 minutes, and was a game-high +11 while on the floor.
“I thought he was good. We tried to give him rest when he could,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He was expending a lot of energy, did a terrific defensively. Lillard is one of the toughest guards in this league and he had to stay attached to him at all times, so I thought Derrick had great awareness on that end of the floor.”
Lillard nearly had a triple double with the numbers were mostly hollow as he struggled to go one of nine in the fourth and four of 20 overall with 19 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.
McCollum, who’s emerged as a capable sidekick to Lillard since the departures of LaMarcus Aldridge and Wes Matthews, scored 18 on seven of 17 shooting, but the duo was nearly 10 points below their nightly averages.
“Anybody I play against I try to give them a tough time,” Rose said. “Let them know it’s going to be a long night and try to contest all of their shots. He’s a great, great player.”
It was necessary because their offense, one that helped build a double-digit lead multiple times throughout the evening, faltered down the stretch in a usual disappearing act.
Rose hit his first 3-point attempt early in the first and a couple bank shot jumpers he’s become so adept at. Early in the fourth he went on a quick spurt to put the Bulls back up by 10 with eight minutes left before they came roaring back.
But holding the Blazers to just 35 percent shooting and forcing 15 turnovers made up for getting beat up on the glass 55-44, and helped prevent a late-game disaster when it appeared the Bulls were going to lose their composure.
Jimmy Butler and Mason Plumlee got into it when Plumlee threw his shoulder into Butler on a screen late in the fourth, prompting Butler to lock his legs on Plumlee in one motion and the two locked heads but no blows were thrown.
A technical was assessed to Butler and a flagrant one was given to Plumlee.
“He thought he was playing football for a second there,” Butler said.
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They thought to fully restore order when Pau Gasol drove for a layup on Plumlee to give the Bulls a five-point lead with 1:45 left, but after Rose got a layup blocked, Plumlee drove it end to end with no one bothering to stop the ball, making it a two-point game with 1:14 remaining.
Gasol struggled from the field, making just five of 15 shots but hit a fadeaway jumper with the shot clock running out for one of the Bulls’ five fourth-quarter field goals.
Noah, who got the last stop, had an offensive game for the first time in awhile after going scoreless against Golden State, making his first jumper of the season and scoring seven points with six rebounds and three assists—none of which was a chief reason he was on the floor for the final possession, but likely added to his confidence nonetheless.
“We got stops when we needed them most and that’s what you have to do when your offense isn’t clicking,” Hoiberg said. “We missed some good ones and when that ball got on the other side of the floor it didn’t get side to side nearly enough, so again, we gotta keep working on getting better down the stretch.”
Butler made key free throws after the Blazers’ final gasps came up short, completing an efficient 22-point night that lead all scorers, adding four assists and four steals.
It wasn’t the first time they’ve used defense as a calling card but they exorcised a few demons in a building they hadn’t won at since the 2007 season, giving them good feelings on the way back home.