PORTLAND – Chauncey Billups had his concerns before the game with the Bulls even started on Wednesday.
“DeMar [DeRozan] and Zach [LaVine] are playing so well, but the key to their team is Zo,’’ the Portland coach said of Lonzo Ball. “He’s just a winner, man. He kicks the ball up the floor, he gets people shots, he’s knocking the three down, he defends.’’
Billups’ fears were real in that first half, as Ball and Alex Caruso completely handcuffed Portland’s dynamic backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, holding them scoreless until 5:13 left in the first half, when Lillard scored on a goal-tend by Alize Johnson.
That’s how a Bulls team went into the locker room at the half up 63-48, and looking like three-straight wins on the road trip were in the bag.
Unfortunately, that bag had a hole in it, and in the third quarter it broke. Just like that an easy victory was turned into an embarrassing loss, as the Blazers came back to win 112-107.
“I could sense even with the way we were running our offense, there wasn’t a lot of thrust to the basket on cuts,’’ coach Billy Donovan said. “We did not respond at all in that third quarter, and that was disappointing.’’
The final score was ugly, but the third quarter numbers were hideous.
Not only did Portland outscore the Bulls 33-22, but took advantage of 10 turnovers in the quarter that they turned into 18 points. DeRozan had three and LaVine had three to set the pace.
“We just didn’t respond well when the game started getting physical,’’ Donovan said. “We weren’t getting calls and we started complaining … you gotta be able to grind through that.’’
As bad as that third was, the Bull still held the lead going into the fourth, but it only took five minutes to run them down, as McCollum made a 29-footer off of a Jusuf Nurkic offensive rebound, giving Portland the 94-92 lead.
It looked like LaVine would help the Bulls (10-5) take control back less than a minute later, as he hit a big three-pointer. But he also complained to a nearby ref, gestured, and picked up the technical.
“I don’t feel like talking about free throws,’’ LaVine said.
When asked about the technical, he said “same answer.’’
“I let my emotions get the best of me,’’ LaVine added.
The All-Star would get the chance to redeem himself, getting the ball in his hands on a perfectly executed pin-down that completely left him wide open for the game-tying three with 10.1 seconds left.
It hit front of the rim, however, and LaVine’s chance to play hero ended there.
LaVine did finish with a game-high 30 points. As for that Bulls player Billups feared, Ball did it on both ends yet again, finishing with 17 points, including 3-for-5 from three.
That’s what made this one painful: One bad quarter doomed them.
“We need to watch the film and learn from it,’’ Ball said. “I think the most important thing is not to let our offense bleed into our defense. We can’t do that. We’ve got to play defense the whole time.’’