Trail Blazers Start 2018 With First Overtime Win Of The Season In Chicago

by Casey Holdahl
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CHICAGO -- Nothing like starting the New Year with extra basketball.

The Trail Blazers, playing once again without Damian Lillard (right hamstring strain) started 2018 off right with a 124-120 overtime victory versus the Chicago Bulls in front of a crowd of 20,860 Monday night at the United Center.

"On the heels of our last game, this was a good one," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. "Chicago is not necessarily a team that forces a lot of turnovers, unlike Atlanta, which does force turnovers. It was 108 to 104 shot attempts, you don't see that very often. I think at the end of regulation it was almost 100 (attempts) per team, there weren't a lot of whistles, the ball was going up and down. So it was a good game."

With the win, the Trail Blazers improve to 19-18 overall and 11-7 on the road this season while handing the Bulls their first home loss since December 3, 2017.

Coming off perhaps their worst loss of the season Saturday night to the Hawks in Atlanta, the Trail Blazers looked motivated and ready to play from the jump in Chicago. Evan Turner, playing in front of family and friends in his hometown, was especially effective early, scoring 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting to help Portland take a 31-23 lead after the first quarter.

“Ever since he had his first bucket, I was saying, ‘E.T.’s home. He’s at the crib,’" said Pat Connaughton. "He kept it going. I ended up saying that quite a few times tonight. It was really cool to see."

But the Bulls, a team playing the second game of a back-to-back after losing to the Wizards on New Year's Eve in Washington DC, would find their footing in the second quarter. Chicago used a 9-0 run to take a 38-37 lead with 6:28 to play in second quarter and would push their lead to eight before taking a slim 53-52 lead into the intermission.

While CJ McCollum would get going offensively in the third, scoring 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field and 3-of-5 from three in the quarter, the Bulls got balanced scoring and eight second-chance points to take a 87-83 lead into the fourth.

Though they got close numerous times, Portland wouldn't take their first lead of the second half until a Jusuf Nurkić putback with 7:34 to play in regulation gave the road team a 95-93 advantage. Chicago would take back the lead on the next possession and held on to it until McCollum's floater with 57 seconds to play tied the game at 112-112. After a missed Lauri Markkanen three with 17.7 seconds to play, McCollum would have a chance to win the game in regulation, though his 18-foot jumper missed the mark and Denzel Valentine's desperation three was well off to send the game to overtime.

Portland scored the first points of overtime on a three from Turner and Aminu followed up with his final triple of the night a little over a minute later to put the Trail Blazers up 118-114 with 3:27 to play in overtime. The Bulls managed to tie the game twice, once after a Kris Dunn 11-foot jumper and again on a Markkanen mid-range jumper, but McCollum would score the final four points to tilt the scales in Portland's favor.

“It was good for us to have an offensive night," said Stotts. "We’ve struggled a lot of the season with our offense and it was good to see Evan (Turner) have a good offensive night obviously. Al-Farouq (Aminu) in the fourth quarter and overtime, we needed every one of his threes. CJ (McCollum) didn’t necessarily shoot the ball well, but in the fourth quarter and overtime he made good decisions.”

TOP SCORERS

After missing his first six shots, CJ McCollum went 11-of-30 from the field  and 5-of-11 from three for 32 points, 14 of which he scored in the third quarter, eight assists and six rebounds in 45 minutes.

Al-Farouq Aminu hit four three-pointers in the fourth quarter and added his fifth in overtime to finish with 24 points and seven rebounds, an assist and a steal in 41 minutes.

Evan Turner, playing in his home town, scored a season-high 22 points to go with six assists and four rebounds in 38 minutes.

Shabazz Napier finished with 11 points, six assists and six rebounds in 41 minutes. Napier has now scored in double figures in seven-straight games for the first time in his career. Jusuf Nurkić also scored 11 points while grabbing a game-high 15 rebounds for the double-double. Nurkić also logged three steals, two blocks and two assists in 38 minutes.

Pat Connaughton went 5-of-9 from the field and 2-of-4 from three for 16 points off the bench.

LISTEN UP

NEW YEAR, NEW OFFENSE?

If you’ve watched the Trail Blazers this season, you know that they have not played the kind of efficient offense that they’ve been known for during Terry Stotts’ tenure in Portland. While their defense took significant strides in the last three months of 2017 — they currently rank fourth in defensive efficiency at 102.0 points allowed per 100 possessions — that improvement came with a steep decline in their offensive performance. After finishing the 2016-17 season with the 11th ranked offense in the NBA at 107.8 points scored per 100 possessions, they are currently owners of the 27th ranking offense in 2017-18 at 102.1 points scored per 100 possessions.

But while they haven’t showed any real signs of improvement on offense as of late, they are getting a break to start 2018 in terms of the the quality of defenses they’re be facing. According to NBA.com’s John Schuhmann, of their 16 games in the schedule in January, 13 are against teams ranked in the bottom 15 of the league in terms of defensive efficiency.

Portland didn't waste any time taking advantage of that schedule, putting up 112 points in regulation and 124 in the game against a Bulls team ranked 18th in defensive efficiency.

RESOLUTE WITHOUT RESOLUTIONS

It’s New Year’s Day, a time when a lot of people are considering the highs and lows of the last 12 months while considering the opportunities of the next 12 months. But that doesn’t really fit all that well for NBA players and coaches. For them, years are defined by the NBA season, not the Gregorian calendar.

“Everything is marked by the basketball seasons,” said Terry Stotts. “So when I look back where I was a certain year it was in ’85-’86, that’s where I was. Or ’90-’91, I know where I was. It’s never the calendar year.”

Given that, most on the team don’t really consider the start of 2018 as the right time to reminisce about the last year or make set goals for the next. For them, that those kinds of exercises are better left for the offseason.

“I stay present. And when it’s time for me to look back in time or look at the future, I do so, but I usually don’t do that until the summer or something like that,” said Shabazz Napier. “I usually just try to stay present, try to figure out what I need to do better from the past game and stuff like that. I don’t really go too far back to figure out because if I did, I’d probably go crazy. Everybody has their regrets and everybody has things that they should have done better, so I just try to make it simple.”

NEXT UP

The Trail Blazers finish up their three-game New Year’s trip Tuesday night in Cleveland in the second game of a back-to-back versus the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Northwest and Rip City Radio 620 AM.

While it’s the last game of the trip for the Trail Blazers, it will be the first game of the season and of his Cavaliers career for guard Isaiah Thomas, was acquired in the trade that sent Kyrie Irving to the Celtics during the 2017 offseason. The 5-9 guard in his seventh season out of Washington has not played due to a hip injury, though it was announced Monday that he would make his debut Tuesday versus the Trail Blazers.