By Mike McGraw
This started out looking like a redemption performance from the Bulls, a night after they ended a streak of 140 straight games without a 20-point loss.
The Bulls dominated the first quarter in Portland on Sunday night as Joakim Noah filled the stat sheet, Richard Hamilton knocked down shots and Kirk Hinrich taught his aggressive defense to star rookie Damian Lillard.
But then the second quarter arrived and the Bulls went back to suffering from familiar problems. Besides a weak bench and no 3-point shooting, the Bulls also had trouble securing defensive rebounds on Sunday and lost to the Blazers 102-94 at the Rose Garden.
So the Bulls (5-5) suffered consecutive losses for the first time this season and have two days off before facing former teammate Omer Asik in Houston on Wednesday.
The Bulls have never lost three straight games since Thibodeau became coach. This is only their fifth two-game losing streak of the last three seasons.
On Saturday, they lost 101-80 to the Los Angeles Clippers. That was the second-worst loss of the Thibodeau era, following a 29-point defeat against Orlando on Dec. 1, 2010.
So it made sense when the Bulls bounced back with a strong first quarter, taking a 30-23 lead after one. It didn’t last long, though.
Portland (5-5) came back behind a 3-point barrage, quickly erased the deficit and pulled into a 64-49 lead with 8:29 left in the third quarter after Nicholas Batum and Lillard canned consecutive 3-point baskets.
The Blazers knocked down 9 of 22 shots from 3-point range, while the Bulls were a typical 4-for-16. Portland grabbed a 10-6 edge in offensive rebounds, but most of those came at key moments.
Noah nearly posted a triple-double, finishing with 16 points, 15 rebounds and 8 assists. He seemed to wear down in the fourth quarter after playing 41 minutes.
Nate Robinson actually led the Bulls with 18 points. Hamilton added 15 and Luol Deng scored 14. Batum and Wesley Matthews scored 21 each to pace Portland.
The Bulls actually managed to erase the 15-point deficit. They tied the score at 73-73 on a Taj Gibson 3-point play with 10:49 remaining, then missed a chance to take the lead.
On the other end, the Bulls gave up a jumper to Ronnie Price and a Batum 3-pointer. Then a bad pass by Hinrich led to a Price fast-break lay-in and 3-point play to give the Blazers an 81-73 advantage with 8:32 left.
After Noah stopped the run with a short jumper, Matthews nailed another 3-pointer to make it a 9-point game. A few minutes later, the Bulls were down 7 and forced 2 Portland misses, but gave up 2 offensive rebounds and Matthews’ putback made it 90-81 with 2:53 left.
By the time the Bulls cut the lead to 4 points on a Robinson 3-pointer, the clock was down to 13 seconds.
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