PORTLAND — Talk about adding insult to injury.
Not only did the Bulls (6-5) continue a dubious streak for the second consecutive evening — they had lost seven straight games in Denver following Thursday’s defeat and now have six losses in a row in Portland — by losing to the Trail Blazers (11-2) 98-95 at the Moda Center, but Derrick Rose left the game in the third quarter with a right knee injury, unable to put any weight on the leg as he was assisted to the locker room.
[RELATED: Rose leaves game with a right knee injury]
A heavy dose of Carlos Boozer was the Bulls’ early offensive recipe, eventually giving way to Rose (20 points) keying a 7-0 run to give the visitors some breathing room midway through the opening period, as they opened up a double-digit lead. Rugged veteran shooting guard Wesley Matthews (28 points) had other ideas about the direction of the game, but was countered by All-Star small forward Luol Deng (15 points, 14 rebounds), who ensured that the Bulls’ hard work didn’t go to waste.
Showing signs of bouncing back after a 3-for-18 shooting night Thursday, Deng pounded the offensive glass to help lead the Bulls to a 32-22 advantage at the conclusion of the first quarter.
Deng helped the Bulls’ second unit, featuring solid contributions from the likes of second-year point guard Marquis Teague, extend the lead to nearly 20 points as he notched a double-double early in the second quarter. Upon his exit, Rose was reinserted into the contest and took over primary-scorer responsibilities, pushing the pace in transition against the sluggish Blazers, in their first home contest after a four-game road trip.
While Rose wasn’t especially efficient shooting the ball, the point guard forced the action in an aggressive style, yet wasn’t detrimental to his team because he didn’t settle for low-percentage outside jumpers. The Bulls’ smothering defense held Portland to 33 percent shooting from the field, with All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge a non-factor and reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard also ineffective on the offensive end, as Matthews, versatile small forward Nicolas Batum and defensive-minded center Robin Lopez tried to pick up the slack.
Combined with dominant rebounding — they enjoyed a 31-18 edge on the boards — the formula led to a 59-44 Bulls lead at the intermission.
After the break, Lillard led a surge that saw the Bulls’ once-commanding lead almost instantly shrink to single digits. The offensively-potent Blazers began to click behind Lillard’s blend of scoring and playmaking, Lopez’s energy on the interior and Matthews’ toughness and timely scoring, while the Bulls’ execution was lacking on both ends of the floor, exemplified by Rose getting hit with a technical foul.
What had been a 21-point Bulls’ lead evolved into a close-knit affair, with the Blazers tying the game at 68 apiece on a Matthews layup with 3:47 left in the third period before taking the lead on a three-pointer by veteran instant-offense scorer Mo Williams. Williams further sparked Portland, giving the home team some breathing room, but it was the inspired play of Matthews and Lopez’s physical nature inside, mostly nullifying the efforts of Bulls’ counterpart Joakim Noah for the entire game, that was foundation of the comeback.
A Matthews layup with a second left in the quarter put the Bulls in a 78-71 hole heading into the final stanza and making matters worse, Rose, who exited the game with 3:20 in the frame, limped off to the locker room with the assistance of the team’s medical staff, adding injury to the insult of a 10-0 run to close the third.
Rose’s injury, which appeared to be his right knee, cast a pall over the rest of the game, from a Bulls’ perspective at the very least, but on the court, the team pressed on. The visitors tied the game at 83-all with 7:50 to go in the contest, then took the lead on a Deng basket with 4:30 to go.
With Noah struggling, veteran backup Nazr Mohammed gave the Bulls valuable minutes, while Mike Dunleavy Jr., who graduated from high school in Portland while his father coached the opposing team, and Kirk Hinrich made big offensive contributions, and as usual, Taj Gibson impacted the game on the interior. But Matthews scored to give the Blazers a 96-95 lead and after having a possession with 36 seconds left, with multiple shots at regaining the lead, a shot-clock violation gave Portland the ball back with 12.8 seconds on the clock.
Aldridge was fouled with 7.8 seconds to go and knocked down a pair of free throws and on the other end, the Bulls couldn’t convert a game-tying attempt at a trey.