START WRITING OUR NAME ON THE TROPHY, MOTHERFUCKERS! After trailing by as many as 21 points in a nearly catastrophic first half, the Trail Blazers came all the way back to beat the Bulls by a score of 98-95 in front of a (real) capacity crowd at the Moda Center on Friday night and earn the signature win of the season thus far. Portland extended its winning streak to 9 games, and now boasts an 11-2 record for the first time since—FUCK HISTORY WE LIVING IN THE NOW. Of course, the Bulls played without Derrick Rose for much of the second half, after Rose left the game with an unknown knee injury, leaving Chicago to run the crunch time offense through Kirk Hinrich (not to mention Tom Thibodeau trying to earn some much-needed good karma by playing Nazr Mohammed for all the key plays down the stretch [that karma might have actually kept Rose’s ACL in one piece but still, just give those minutes to The Human Fund next time, Thibs, or burn them]). But please don’t spit on the Blazers’ parade and call it rain (although it will be pouring metaphorical acid rain if Rose’s ACL is in fact torn) — and speaking of parades, I’ll see you in Pioneer Square around mid-June. Don’t worry; I’ll bring extra kazoos.
[UPDATE: Rose has been diagnosed with a meniscus tear so he will need surgery and is out indefinitely, but shouldn't take as long to recover than an ACL tear. Cue: acid rain drizzle]
As anyone who has seen Bloodsport can attest, the only thing better than winning is winning when it seems impossible – “Victory from the jaws of defeat” and all that stuff – and seeing the Blazers win this game certainly felt impossible in the first half. Bulls head coach and defensive guru Tom Thibodeau matched the lengthy Luol Deng against the red hot Wes Matthews, putting Mike Dunleavy Jr. on Nicolas Batum. Then in the frontcourt, Joakim Noah matched up against LaMarcus Aldridge while Carlos Boozer handled Robin Lopez’s limited offensive game. Notably and unsurprisingly, Terry Stotts did not keep any of these matchups the same on the other end, as the Damian Lillard vs. Derrick Rose contest was the only one that remained on both ends. The advantage for Portland would be to push the ball in transition (as they want to anyway) and catch the Bulls before they can reorganize all the assignments, or better yet, catch them in the chaotic moment of reorganization. To do that, the Blazers would need to prohibit Chicago from scoring to have time to set up their defense, rebound Chicago’s misses to create transition opportunities, and make shots when available. Instead, the Blazers gave up 32 points in the first quarter and 59 in the first half, Chicago out-rebounded Portland 52-39 (surprisingly lower than my unofficial first half count of ∞-0), including 17 offensive rebounds for the Bulls, and Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge got off to ghastly starts, missing their first 8 shots combined. Aldridge finished the game with just 12 points, while Lillard would come back to finish with 20 points and 6 assists.
Meanwhile, Derrick Rose scored 17 points in the first half (he only finished with 20 because again, he left with an injury in the third quarter). Yet somehow, the Blazers went to the break only down 59-44, despite everything going wrong short of locusts and pestilence.
“The night is darkest before the dawn.”
The Dark Knight may not be a strong enough comparison for the way Wes Matthews is playing right now. No disrespect to Bruce Wayne, but he’s just a dedicated guy with a lot of disposable income (say, that sounds like someone else I know). Wes is on some magical bit-by-a-bioengineered-spider-or-Kobe-Bryant-or-both-or-he-is-actually-the-dude-from-Taken-taking-over-the-body-of-Zeus type stuff. Matthews led all scorers in the game with 28 points, doing it on 12-19 shooting (including 4-8 from 3-point territory) and the sort of huge plays that lead to all-caps tweets and all manner of excited yelps from the southern tip of the Willamette Valley all the way to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. If the team and fans were a hobbit and a wizard and dwarves all clinging to trees as fire and wild dogs and some kind of goblin monster and Tom Thibodeau appeared to bring imminent death, then Wes Matthews was that Golden Eagle of salvation swooping them all up in his talons and on his wings and flying them all the way to the mountaintop.
Though Matthews was the talisman for the Blazers’ third quarter performance that saw them outscore the Bulls 34-12 and turn a 15-point deficit into a 7-point lead by the start of the fourth quarter, I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize the impact of the Portland crowd. For all the remarks so far this season about the lack of attendance in the Moda Center and – God forbid – theories that Portland might be turning on its premier franchise in favor of second-or-third-rate soccer, the crowd #TurntUp for this one. Blazers management had announced earlier on Friday that it would be a sellout, and they weren’t exaggerating or creatively interpreting the definition of “sellout.” The Moda Center was as packed as it’s been this season, and the energy wrought from the seats spurred the spectacular comeback on the court.
As the Blazers’ comeback became the Blazers building their lead, the crowd was rocking, and Chicago’s superstar, Rose, was limping into the locker room, it felt almost like the game might turn into a blowout the other way. But credit the Bulls and the dynamic data in Hinrich’s heads-up display for fighting back and almost snatching the game again. With 3:15 remaining on the clock, a Hinrich 3-pointer put the Bulls ahead by 5 at 93-88 and crowned a 22-10 surge by Chicago that began at the start of the fourth quarter. Hinrich scored 9 of his 13 points in the final period, and between his glasses and black sleeve, he looked like a sentient Kirk Hinrich cyborg sent back in time to simply kill all in his path. But thanks to a Batum 3-pointer, a tough pull-up jumper from Wes Matthews (Portland’s Sarah Connor), and two late (clutch!) Aldridge free throws, Portland scored the last 7 points of the game to seal the win.
Next stop championship. Well actually, Oakland is first. Then championship.