January 10, 2019, 12:40 am
Observations and analysis from the Portland Trail Blazers’ SCORE win over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night at Moda Center…
Portland, for the third straight game, enjoyed an incredibly balanced scoring effort en route to 56.6 percent shooting, 11-of-26 from beyond the arc, and 19-of-21 from the free throw line. Even more impressive? The Blazers doled out 28 assists compared to just seven turnovers, good for a four-to-one assist to turnover ratio, their best single-game mark of the season.
C.J. McCollum led all scorers with 24 points on 10-of-14 from the field. Damian Lillard had 16 points and 10 assists, and Jusuf Nurkic, fighting second-half foul trouble, scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds in just 21 minutes of play. What really sets this performance apart for Portland, though, was the play of its bench, which extended the team’s narrow lead in the second quarter and ultimately blew the game open early in the fourth.
Seth Curry, scoring from deep and at the rim with equal ease and flash, had 17 points on 11 shots. Zach Collins went for 16 points, nine rebounds, and four assists, even connecting on 2-of-3 three-point attempts. Meyers Leonard had eight points, and Nik Stauskas, getting rotation minutes for the first time in three games as a result of Moe Harkless’ absence, stuffed the stat sheet with eight points, three rebounds, and three assists.
The only players who weren’t especially good offensively were Al-Farouq Aminu and Jake Layman. Good thing, too, as Portland needed all the offense it could get until late in the third quarter, when it was finally able to slow down Chicago’s offense for an extended period.
The Blazers absolutely feasted in ball-screen and hand-off action Wednesday night, again and again exploiting the Bulls’ aggressive coverage by releasing the ball early and attacking on the roll. Lillard had six assists in the first quarter alone, three of which came courtesy of bounce passes to a diving Nurkic for layups as Chicago committed two to the ball.
Nurkic hit an 18-footer in side pick-and-roll under the same circumstances, too. Collins, Leonard, and even Aminu were also beneficiaries of the Bulls’ slow-rotating help defense behind the point of attack, whether on rolls to the rim, pops to the arc, or “short rolls” – when the man setting the pick stops his dive early to provide an outlet for the trapped ball handler, working a 4-on-3 numbers game from there.
The Bulls won’t ever be the defensive team Jim Boylen hopes they will be until they clean up their help rotations on the back line. This game serves as a forceful reminder, though, of just how dangerous Portland can be when the ball is moving quickly and its role players play with force, speed and decisiveness.
FLYERS LEONARD! pic.twitter.com/sWwEEnDHqA
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) January 10, 2019
Kris Dunn has excellent size, is an explosive athlete, and plays with a motor that can’t be coached. What’s kept the third-year floor general from establishing himself in the league up to this point, though, is his utter lack of a jumper – the type of weakness that prompts far more problems than missed shots alone.
Case in point: Early in the first quarter, Lillard first went under a ball screen for Dunn set inside the arc, then again went under a re-screen set near the elbow, some 15 feet from the basket. Fortunately for the Blazers, they don’t have to contend with the rippling affects of a ball handler who warrants no respect as a perimeter shooter. Portland’s spacing problems are manifested away from the ball rather than on it, as Lillard, McCollum, Curry, and even Stauskas, when called upon to show off his floor game, are all dangerous off-dribble three-point shooters.
Evan Turner isn’t, of course, which is why his impact as a primary creator stems from pushing in transition, post-ups, and finding shooters off screens rather than pick-and-roll action. Dunn, clearly, has the physical goods and dogged demeanor necessary to be a starter in this league. But he won’t ever reach that potential unless his jumper improves, forcing defenders to go over the top of picks – affording he and his teammates crucial extra room to operate – rather than ducking under them, daring him to shoot.
Speaking of Dunn: Look what Lillard almost did, and even ended up doing, to him at the rim. Yeesh.
Dame spared a victim pic.twitter.com/FJYsUIaNqs
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) January 10, 2019
The Blazers moved to 9-0 on the season when Curry scores at least nine points, a total he reached in the first half alone. There’s only so much value to be gleaned from such trends created by arbitrary statistical thresholds, but this specific tidbit speaks to how much more dangerous Portland is when Curry is in attack mode. At the beginning of this season, after a full year removed from the game while recovering from injury with the Dallas Mavericks, Curry barely flashed the floor game that made him one of the league’s most pleasant surprises in 2016-17, instead fading into the background as a spot-up shooter.
He’s been in attack mode of late, though, leveraging his red-shot three-point shooting and the accompanying defensive pressure into dribble penetration that creates scoring opportunity for he and his teammates. On Wednesday, that approach mostly manifested itself in layups and floaters after deliberate jab steps and herky-jerky drives. Curry is good enough to be the Blazers’ most influential bench player any given night, and he’s begun playing like it on a consistent basis.
Collins, who was fuming mad after fouling out in garbage time, by the way, was even better than his stellar numbers suggest, making plays on both ends whether he was involved in the primary action or otherwise. On one possession in the third quarter, he stymied Zach LaVine at the rim with perfectly-timed help and high arms, only to forcefully block his ensuing put-back attempt after staying on the floor for multiple pump fakes.
Another defensive highlight for Collins came when he pressured Bobby Portis at the arc, as a result of the Chicago big man banging a pair of threes in the preceding moments, and immediately called for a switch with Turner on the dribble hand-off to account for Portis’ hot hand, culminating in a Bulls turnover. Later in the third, Collins grabbed offensive rebounds amid multiple defenders on successive possessions, leading to a put-back of his own and kickout three for Curry.
He also found Leonard for an alley-oop from the wing on a broken play early in the fourth quarter, then further extended Portland’s lead by banging a three from the left wing – an especially encouraging play considering he’d misfired from beyond the arc on the Blazers’ previous trip. Portland is a much, much different team when Collins, either spelling Nurkic at center or playing power forward next to Leonard, supplements the little things he brings to the table on a nightly basis with notable box-score production. Here’s hoping this breakout performance prompts the type of offensive aggression necessary for him to achieve it more often.
— NBC Sports Northwest (@NBCSNorthwest) January 10, 2019