In a Nutshell
The Blazers play their best game of the road trip but can't string together enough consistent offense and commit just a few too many defensive lapses to come out ahead. The Hawks weren't clearly better, just clearly more dependable while playing a similar style to the Blazers. The Hawks can thank their two stars and their bench defense for the win.
The Blazers started this game in great shape on the defensive end. They forced the Hawks outside and, even more critically, rebounded excellently. The latter can't be assumed against the Hawks and the Blazers did marvelously. This kept them in the game even though their shots were not falling. Around the midpoint of the quarter both teams made a concerted effort to get inside. The Blazers went with Gerald Wallace who borked several moves. The Hawks forwards, Marvin Williams and Josh Smith, had fewer difficulties. Atlanta took the first significant lead of the game but the Blazers came back behind a hot start from Jamal Crawford. This also allowed Aldridge the requisite space to get his offense off and he keyed up too. Atlanta led 21-17 after the first period.
Atlanta's bench handed Portland their hats in the second quarter. It started with Janero Pargo hitting multiple open jumpers. Then the Hawks got drives and fouls off of a collapsing Portland defense. They translated the inside pressure into open threes and suddenly they appeared to be hitting on all cylinders. Portland's best offensive opportunities came on breaks off of turnovers Wesley Matthews creating a couple steals in the process. But those were rarer that Atlanta's good looks. Rarer still were Portland's good shots in the halfcourt. The most acceptable ones again came from the hands of Aldridge and Crawford, though the latter also missed plenty (natch). The Hawks ended the half shooting 56% off of their strong second period and led 51-42 at the half.
Portland's third period began with a couple of made three-pointers. Combined with a layup and a couple free throws they quickly found themselves back within a point. But class is in, children. The Blazers always string together a couple of threes during any given game. Pop Quiz: When those three are the mechanism for the comeback, will that comeback last? Time's up. If you said, "No!" you are correct. After missing three straight jumpers of 20 feet or more the Blazers found themselves down by a half-dozen again. They got the ball inside against a momentarily-distracted Atlanta defense and erased the deficit, taking a rare lead. But that spurt lasted only a couple minutes. Atlanta locked down again, pressured Portland drivers, and dared the Blazers to shoot long. Not only did the Blazers oblige their hosts, they put a cherry on the top by not getting back in transition after their misses. Suddenly the Hawks were beating the Blazers at their own quick-offense game. They closed the period on a 14-0 run and led 75-62 after three.
To their credit the Blazers didn't give up. Instead they returned to the lock-down defense with which they had started the game. The result was zero points for the Hawks in the first five minutes of the final period. On offense they let Crawford go to work and he responded with 9 points in less than 2 minutes. When he hit a three-pointer from a suburban peach tree orchard with 6:15 remaining in the period the Blazers took the lead again. That's when Joe Johnson decided to put an end to that. He immediately hit a 15-footer to put the Hawks back up and hit a three a couple of possessions later. Aldridge hit a 12-footer but Josh Smith got it back and then the Hawks relied on their guards (and Portland's lack of guard defense) to close the game. Johnson and point guard Jeff Teague scored 7 of the Hawks' final 9 points of the game, many from the line. Crawford and Wesley Matthews tried to answer but Atlanta's duo was slightly more...reliable. Atlanta walks out with a 92-89 victory.
Take Away Points
In the comment section of one of the threads earlier in the season I said something to the effect of, "The Blazers are undoubtedly talented, have a defined and exciting style of play, and are veteran enough to win games. Their problem will be that other teams' play and methods of winning will be more reliable than Portland's." Tonight was a prime example, as we've said a couple times already. The Blazers played hard. The Blazers played well in many aspects. The Blazers didn't give up. You can even say the Blazers are as talented as the Hawks stacked man for man. The issue isn't that Atlanta's players would outclass Portland's if everybody played their best. At guard, for example, you'd like Joe Smith's scoring ability but you'd also like Wesley Matthews' ability to defend him while putting in points of his own. Raymond Felton and Jeff Teague should be a pretty even matchup on paper too. Giving all of those things due credit, answer one question: Which duo do you trust more? It's going to be Johnson and Teague. How much do you trust Crawford's next shot even when he's having a good game? How reliable is Gerald Wallace? Marcus Camby? There are only two guys on the Portland team you depend on night in and night out: Aldridge and Kurt Thomas. Plus the turnovers and jumpers upon which the Blazers rely are inherently unreliable. Plus the Blazers can't be relied upon to finish at the rim in traffic. Plus their best interior scorer is Craig Smith...nice player but not a guy you'd rely upon to carry the offense in any meaningful way. Plus the bench is seriously hit and miss. Talent? Check. Heart? Check. Smarts? Check. Consistency? Bzzzt. And there you go. The Blazers might have better record with a little less name power and players who, in turn, were less mercurial.
Nevertheless don't let the loss disguise what was a good effort, particularly on the board and even defensively as the game progressed. The Blazers did plenty of things right. The Hawks had to work for the win. It was a good game. Just not quite good enough.
LaMarcus Aldridge picked his spots and registered an impressive 10-19 shooting clip for 20 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals. The only real room for criticism is that he took but two free throws (and missed both in a late-game situation where the makes would have made a difference). That's because he spent most of the game outside. The trade-off for the lack of extra points is that he made most of his shots, as they were comfortable.
Gerald Wallace had a couple of defensive explosions and did some nice rebounding but couldn't get the job done in the post or from the perimeter in the halfcourt offense. He can't key the offense nor is he good in that bail-out corner three role. The Blazers need to keep players and the ball in motion to take advantage of what Gerald brings. 4-12 shooting, 8 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks.
Raymond Felton ran the ball multiple times tonight, leaving Atlanta defenders behind. It was among his most aggressive games of the season in that sense. It was a good game overall, at least when measured against his Portland tenure. He looked like a threat tonight. 3-9 shooting, 9 points, 8 assists, only 1 turnover. Part of Felton's problem is that both aggressiveness and ability to make the jumper fade as the game progresses. He comes out like a house on fire but by the second half that's gone. I don't know if it's about getting other people involved or he's just gassed.
Wesley Matthews could not have bought a bucket will Bill Gates' credit card tonight. He went 2-13 from the field, missing whether he was the outlet guy or trying to take over the offense himself. He did go 5-5 from the line but he was 1-7 from the arc and finished with 10 points on those 13 shots. His passing lane defense was exquisite, though. He snagged 5 steals, at one point making Atlanta fans groan in consternation.
Kurt Thomas gave the Blazers 23 good minutes with 9 rebounds, 5 offensive, and 8 points on 4-6 shooting.
Jamal Crawford tried to put the "Hot" back in "Hotlanta" tonight with mixed success. He started and ended his court time strong, missing shots in the middle. But this was going to be his game no matter what. The good news is that he scored 22, making those Atlanta fans groan even more than Matthews did. The bad news is that he took 22 shots to score those 22 points. He packed those 22 shots into 30 minutes of playing time, so you know where his mind was. All in all, though, I didn't mind the shooting. Most of the attempts looked good and he was head and shoulders above the rest of the bench when it came to getting free.
The Nicolas Batum story was the opposite of Crawford's tonight. He played but 9 minutes, missed both of his shot attempts, and registered a rebound, a steal, an assist, and 2 personal fouls. He was knocked out of the game with an eye injury. The Blazers missed him.
Craig Smith was hustling all over the offensive end and the boards tonight. He earned 24 minutes, just edging out Kurt Thomas in that department. It looks like he's the next bench player that Coach McMillan will try to rely on as the 9th man in the rotation. Smith shot 3-5 down deep and 0-1 on a quarter-ending three for 9 points. His questionable call comes in the rebounding department where he had but 3. It seemed like once he got focused on scoring the rest of his game slipped a little.
Nolan Smith fans, rejoice! At least for one game your boy found a way to stay on the floor more than 3 minutes. He defended! Nicely too. He also had 2 assist and almost looked like a point guard...maybe. He had a couple of bad offensive possessions too. 1-3, a three-pointer made.
Fun With Numbers
- Blazers 13 offensive rebounds, Hawks 5...good game.
- Blazers 41 total rebounds, Hawks 47...also good when you consider the disparity in field goal shooting gave the Hawks an advantage in this department.
- Blazers put 92 shots up...where they want to be against the Hawks. They limit Atlanta to 71 shots themselves.
- Blazers force 14 turnovers and only commit 9. Again good.
- Blazers 40 points in the paint, Atlanta 36...excellent!
- Blazers only 10 fast break points, Hawks 22. Oops. Couldn't get back? Part of that is effort and part of that is what happens when you consistently miss layups and long shots.
- Blazers shoot 38% from the field, 26% from the arc. Hawks shoot 46.5% from the field, 45.5% from the arc. It's impressive how the Hawks refuse to get carried away with threes even when they're making them.
- Hawks attempt 27 free throws, hitting 21. Blazers only attempt 20...fewer than the Hawks made. Portland also hits only 14 of 20 for 70%. A couple more of those would have been nice seeing as how the finish was close.
If the Blazers play this well two wins are in the offing in Toronto and Detroit. That'll make everybody feel better again. Plus nobody should feel that bad about this game. It was a good game to watch...better by far than the win in New Orleans and way better than the losses against San Antonio and Houston.
Take a look at the other side of the story at Peachtree Hoops.