With his old teammate Robin Lopez in front of him and his feet at the United Center sign on the floor, Damian Lillard threw caution to the wind as he sensed the end was near.
With redemption on his mind and the Bulls on the ropes, Lillard unleashed a long triple that took the air out of the building with five minutes and pushed the Portland Trailblazers lead to 10.
The Bulls got closer but a few disastrous minutes spelled doom in their 112-110 loss Monday at the United Center, their third defeat in four games as they were without Rajon Rondo, who was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team earlier in the day.
Dwyane Wade scored 34 points with four rebounds and four assists in his return from a one-game rest while Jimmy Butler scored 26 with seven rebounds and five assists but the Bulls shot just 42 percent and committed 15 turnovers, many of them unforced against a defense that isn’t known for stopping opponents.
Lillard hit free throws in the final minute after the Bulls pulled to within three with 18.2 seconds left but his triple was a backbreaker.
It gave the visitors the push they needed after trailing to start the fourth, going on a 13-3 run while the Bulls missed 11 of their 13 shots to start the period, halting a relatively smooth offensive game to that point.
And when their offense abandoned them, they couldn’t get enough stops against a potent Trailblazers team that loves playing fast and loose. Chicago native Evan Turner hit two big baskets during the run, as he hit five of six on the night to score 11.
The Bulls harassed Lillard into one of his worst shooting nights of the season in a blowout win a few weeks ago and he made amends with a 26-point, seven-assist night
He looked to start off on the right foot from the jump, taking advantage of Jerian Grant off the dribble.
The Bulls’ defense was confused on rotations, allowing Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe to feast early on. McCollum ran around screens and read a slow-reacting Bulls defense, nailing jumpers over flat-footed defenders.
Crabbe scored 17 off the bench while McCollum hit 10 of 19 to score 24, as the Blazers hit nine triples at 39-percent accuracy.
The trio of guards combined for 45 in the first half and the Bulls needed to make an adjustment.
So Butler started the third quarter defending Lillard and it seemed to throw off the Blazers’ rhythm. The Bulls took a 67-66 lead minutes into the second half and held off the duo until McCollum’s 25-foot triple right at the end of the third.
He dropped in another two minutes into the fourth to give the Blazers a 90-89 lead.
By then, they were in a dogfight and unable to slow down the hot shooting Blazers.