In a Nutshell
Go to the store and get yourself one of those canned hams...you know, the fake-ish pressed ham product that you buy in a huge tin when you don't want to bother with a real, bone-in ham? Carry it up to the roof of a ten-story building, unwrap it from the tin, and then drop it on the sidewalk below. That "SPLAT!" is about the same sound the Blazers made in this game. Portland couldn't rebound, couldn't hold onto the ball, and thus had zero control over the pace of this game. Atlanta dominated, forcing the Blazers into bad shots and pathetic, ineffective offense. The Blazers mounted a furious fourth-quarter rally spurred by driving and defense but a 20-point gap late was too much to overcome.
This game actually started out nicely for the Blazers. LaMarcus Aldridge scored against the Hawks at will in the first period via jumpers and cuts. The Hawks played his post moves tough but he didn't really need them. Wesley Matthews also dove down the lane for easy backdoor scores. Fouling became a blessing and a curse to the Blazers. It was a blessing because Portland was obviously treating this like a playoff game, fouling hard anytime the Hawks threatened to score easy. It was a curse because the athletic Hawks threatened often leading the Blazers to accumulate fouls like they were collectors items. Andre Miller drew 2 early fouls and had to sit in favor of Rudy Fernandez and/or Brandon Roy. What happens to Portland's offense when Miller sits, students? That's right, canned ham city. Worse yet, after his superb period Aldridge went to the locker room with a knee tweak with 1:55 remaining in the first. There went the rest of Portland's scoring attack. Meanwhile Zaza Pachulia destroyed the Blazers on the offensive boards, taking full advantage of being the only guy anywhere close to 7' and three bills on the floor. Second chance points comprised about half of the Hawk offense but they were enough. Atlanta led 19-18 after one.
The second period started without Aldridge and progressed sloppily. Portland had some looks but missed them consistently, seemingly watching the fast-closing Atlanta defenders out of the corner of their eyes. The Blazers short-armed layups and jump shots alike. Portland tried to get size back in the game with Marcus Camby but he picked up his third foul in short order. LaMarcus Aldridge returned with a knee wrap (and a collective sigh of relief from Blazer fans) but he also picked up quick fouls and had to sit. The Blazers had to ride out the period with no size at all. Portland's smaller defenders were constantly scrambling to fill gaps, leading to a surfeit of fouls on top of the ones already committed. The Hawks paraded to the line every time they thought about moving the ball towards the rim. Portland's players played as aggressively as possible on offense but the result was simply quicker jumpers. The Hawks led by a dozen, 48-36, after two.
In the third period the Blazers went bonkers. Not in the good sense, though. Atlanta cranked up the defense even further, going from scaring Portland shooters to flat-out hawking them. Portland couldn't find an inch of daylight and ended up hesitating on jumpers then throwing panicky passes out of aborted attempts. Those passes led to turnovers. Those turnovers led to run-outs for the Hawks. Those run-outs led to easy points that the Blazers couldn't even begin to match. The whistles actually went Portland's way in the third but it hardly mattered since so many easy buckets went to Atlanta and every hoop by Portland was a near-accident. Portland scored--Ready for this?--13 points in the period. 7 of those came from the foul line. That's right, 3 field goals in 12 minutes. The ESPN announcers kept harping on how LaMarcus Aldridge hadn't hit a field goal since the first period. Nobody had hit a field goal since the first period. The Hawks only scored 20 in the quarter but it might as well have been 1000. Atlanta 68-49 after three. Politicians and pastors make their points quicker than the Blazers were. It was bad.
Still down 20 with 5:54 left in the fourth the Blazers mounted a furious comeback behind defense and driving. Gerald Wallace, Wes Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and LaMarcus Aldridge looked every bit as imposing on "D" as advertised. The catch was it was for a four-minute stretch when the game was all but decided. Forced turnovers and rebounds and rim shots brought the Blazers within 6 with 2:00 left but when the gap is that big everything has to go perfectly for the comeback to prevail. When Jamaal Crawford hit one of his eternally-annoying threes with 1:36 left the puppy was in the kennel. Hawks win, 90-83.
Wallace looked a little nervous early, unable to catch the rock or finish. He got plenty of run in Aldridge's knee-imposed absence and more than showed his defensive chops, even being unfamiliar with his teammates. During the final quarter with nothing to lose Portland fans got to see him play with abandon and it was pretty nice. He looks like a point guard when he flies to the rim with or without the ball. He's quick. His teammates gave him instant respect and plenty of attempts on offense too. They know what they've got.
Getting Zaza Pachulia'ed to death is a bitter pill to swallow but that might be common as the league starts to read the Blazers' roster better.
Unable to hit an outside shot tonight (mostly thanks to Atlanta) the Blazers found no space anywhere on the court and had no bail-out plan.
Andre Miller probably had the best game of the home players tonight. He scored 20 on 9-17 shooting, consistently took smaller defenders to the hole or low post, had 7 rebounds, 2 steals, and 4 assists. That assist number was low but keep in mind the Hawks were playing the passing lane and closing on jump-shooters who were uniformly horrible for the Blazers tonight. He could have had 8 assists easily had anyone hit a shot. Aside from a couple turnovers, Miller looked like least affected by Atlanta's intimidation.
LaMarcus Aldridge scoring 19 points on 6-14 shooting with 7-10 free throws made. His lane moves were guarded quickly by multiple defenders and he never developed any comfort in the paint. Even with Wallace and Brandon Roy both suited and playing, this team still depends on LaMarcus scoring to prosper. LMA had 8 rebounds tonight. He had a hard time handling Josh Smith's athleticism too.
Nicolas Batum played hard all game and shot with alacrity, perhaps wanting to match up well with Wallace. He went 4-9 but only 1-6 from three-point range. He also had but 2 rebounds. Every Atlanta starter besides the point guard had more than that. Then again, those Atlanta forwards are pretty mobile and Nic was required to move constantly. But still...
Wesley Matthews also had a sketchy night. He played some nice defense but nobody's going to corral Joe Johnson (22 points) and Jamaal Crawford (23) forever. Matthews had to hurt them rather than just guard them and he couldn't. He shot 4-10, scored 12, and had 2 rebounds and 3 assists...a far cry off of his numbers from last game. Also anyone who isn't convinced that Matthews handling the ball is a bad idea needs to watch this game. This is one of the reasons you're going to see Roy back in the starting lineup before long. No matter how hard the players try and how well they shoot, the offense really suffers when Andre Miller is the only guy who can put the ball on the floor effectively. That's not a Matthews thing alone, but he's got the most likely starter playing behind him.
Marcus Camby played 20 minutes, had 6 rebounds, and dished 3 assists but he looked tentative. He wasn't big enough to match up with Pachulia and wasn't mobile enough yet to look comfortable guarding anyone else. His rebounding timing was off too.
Gerald Wallace, mentioned above, played 29 minutes and rebounded from a shaky start to have a semi-dominating finish. 9 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block. He looked more sure of his jumper than his rim attack.
Brandon Roy played 18 minutes but didn't have the jets or the shakes to escape Atlanta's defensive pressure. He mostly shot jumpers and mostly missed. 3-9 shooting, 0-3 from distance, 0 free throws attempted, 6 points and 1 rebound in 18 minutes.
Rudy Fernandez had 3 steals but when the team's not going well his defense isn't going to make a difference. He's the frosting on the defensive cake. Tonight there was no cake to frost. Worse, he shot 1-7, 0-5 from distance. Those difficult shots he hit against Denver seemed to be the only kind he took tonight save the one dribble-in/pull-up jumper he actually hit. His form looked lousy, like he didn't know what got him to the dance in the first place. 5 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists to go with those steals.
Patty Mills hit a three in his 4 minutes of play.
Stats of the Night (view at your own risk)
- Blazers 39% shooting, 4-21 (19%) from distance. Atlanta only shot 42% but that was plenty
- Blazers 34 rebounds, Hawks 49. Portland had 20 defensive rebounds and the Hawks had 15 offensive rebounds. That's not a good ratio.
- Atlanta 17 fast break points. Thanks, turnovers.
- The Hawks actually turned the ball over 24 times to Portland's 14 but the Blazers' turnovers were Pick Six variety passes, although in this case I suppose it's Pick Two.
- Jamaal Crawford 4-9 threes. But when doesn't he do that to the Blazers?
Odd Notes and Links
Don't worry, you're still going to like Wallace plenty.
Your February Jersey Contest scoreboard. Congratulations to cbryan who, pending security checks, has won the jersey for this month.
Jersey Contest form for the first game of March.