In a Nutshell
The Blazers bully and out-hustle the Hawks enough to win this game. Out-shooting them as well puts the frosting on the Twinkie as the Blazers demolish Atlanta at nearly every position in nearly every moment of this game.
LaMarcus Aldridge returned to the floor tonight, allowing the Blazers to try their shiny new lineup featuring Nicolas Batum at shooting guard with Gerald Wallace and Aldridge at the forward positions. After the Hawks made three inside shots off of poor defense at the outset of the game Nate McMillan called timeout. When Portland returned to the floor they played as professionally as we've seen them all season. They executed, they shot, they hustled, the pushed tempo, and most of all they rebounded. Boy, did they rebound. Batum, Wallace, Marcus Camby...they just owned the glass. You barely knew Atlanta existed after a shot went up. Raymond Felton made a point of blitzing the ball up the court and, unlike we've seen in recent games, his teammates followed. Early offense seemed to catch Atlanta off guard. With every single starter attacking and on fire frequent shots paid dividends. Only a rush by Josh Smith and Willie Green (two makes each) in the last three minutes kept the game close. Portland led 33-25 after one but Atlanta looked like they didn't know what hit them. They shot well in the period but needed every bucket just to hold on.
Portland's bench couldn't keep up the offensive onslaught in the second period but behind Batum the second unit continued the hustle play and great defense. They may not have scored much but Atlanta scored less. The Hawks were treated to a banquet of blocked shots, turnovers, and offensive rebounds. They scored only a dozen in the period and 5 of those were from the foul line. It was a disaster...or a defensive masterpiece, depending on which side your viewing angle allowed. Portland's 19 was a tidal wave by comparison and Portland led 52-37 at the half.
The greatest testament to the Blazers' effort this evening was that Aldridge went ice-cold in the second and remained that way throughout the third. He gave them 7 points in those two periods combined. Yet Portland didn't miss a beat. Felton kept pushing the offense, Camby, Batum, and Wallace smacked down on defense. The only shots where the Hawks got any daylight were three-pointers. Even then it was more like a glimmer than full sunshine. As a result they shot 7-27 from beyond the arc, 26%. Keep in mind that they usually fire at a 38% clip from distance. Atlanta lost this period too, 20-19, and trailed 72-56 after three.
Portland's fourth-quarter offense was slower, against the clock, but that was understandable given the large lead and the impulse to burn time plus the zone defense the Hawks turned on to try and change up momentum. It didn't work. You could tell the Blazers were still into the game by the technical fouls they picked up arguing non-calls if nothing else. Coach McMillan kept most of his starters in until late when the game was secure. The Blazers never let the Hawks off the carpet in any case. Portland runs away by 20, 97-77. A ton of sweat made this game no sweat at all.
I think it's safe to say that Nicolas Batum as the starting shooting guard is a good move. He seems to like starting, for one thing. His shot is confident, his look aggressive from the opening moments. Plus he's as good of a defender as Wesley Matthews and immediately made the Hawks look like children on the boards. If he's going to produce at this level you can't not start him.
Matthews, in turn, looked just fine coming off the bench. He looked more crisp on defense and he made the most of his shooting opportunities. He got close to the same number of minutes and more than his average number of shots. He's more free to be the kind of shooting guard he seems to want to be off the bench.
In short, the Blazers need to ride this horse as far as it will take them.
LaMarcus Aldridge went 8-19 for 19 points, slightly below his standards. But his offense looked easier as his backcourt hit shots. He didn't take a lot of those painful standstill dribbles. He caught, fired the ball out and got it back if the re-post was in order, then made his move and shot. It's hard to quantify exactly. Often this year his offense has looked like he's carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, like he's forcing things because he knows he has to. Even with the misses, this was free and easy tonight. Perhaps not coincidentally, his defensive and rebounding energy was high. (Though obviously this could be the days off too.) He had 10 rebounds, 4 offensive, plus 4 assists. He played 35 minutes.
Gerald Wallace shot 7 times, making 4, for 9 points with 5 rebounds and 4 assists in 34 minutes. The numbers are low but except for letting Joe Johnson score those early points posting and backdooring him at the onset of the game he was part of the defensive shut-down crew. Seriously, if Aldridge, Wallace, Batum, and Camby play together and keep their heads in the game opponents are going to have a hard time finding any open shots. Those guys can all cover space.
Nicolas Batum had a masterful game...more so considering this was not one of those nights where he took over and stood out. Or rather, he took over and stood out defensively and especially on the boards, letting the offense come more naturally than, say, his 9-three-pointer effort. He was a whirlwind with his hands and feet, kept multiple good players contained, ripped down 8 rebounds, and still managed to shoot 9-15, attack the lane, offensive rebound, fire 3-6 from distance, and score 22.
Marcus Camby had 8 rebounds, 8 points, and 2 blocks in 20 minutes. He looked like he was having more fun with people playing defense around him. It seems like Camby has made a contract with his team. If everybody else is going to slough off then he's not going to lay it out there, burning his energy trying to turn around the game himself. But if the team gets in the flow and works a little he's a great defensive weapon.
Raymond Felton. Hello. Don't fall asleep on the fact that he set the tone for Portland's offensive game from the jump. When I say he "pushed the tempo" I mean he dribbled hard, kept his head up, found the right guys, and all but demanded his team get into early and effective offense. Also (knock us all over with a feather) he hit his shots. And this was not the typical "I'm going to drive to the rim 3 times in the first 3 minutes of the game and then loft jumpers off the dribble for the other 45" Felton special. He actually caught the ball when the interior guys were covered and put it in the hoop with minimal delay or dribbles. He was an outlet playing off of other players instead of having to dictate the game himself. 6-11 shooting, 2-5 from the arc, 14 points, 8 assists, and a standing ovation here. Nice game!
Wesley Matthews, as mentioned, went 6-13 from the field for 13 points. The excellent defense didn't flag when he was in. He didn't look like he was forcing shots. Other than once again showing he's not the guy you want anywhere near a fast break he did everything you want a good bench player to do.
Nolan Smith got 15 minutes of burn and played well! The biggest development was him adding his voice to the defensive chorus. He looked active, played smart, moved his feet...some of what was promised when he was drafted but has yet to be shown. The bulk of his offensive point-guarding was taking the ball up the court and then passing to someone else who was going to conduct the real play, but that's OK for now. He had 5 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal in 15 minutes.
Jamal Crawford played 13 minutes and did one of those "I'm getting perilously close to J.R. Rider" things where he refused to accept the ball, returned it immediately when it was sent anyway, and generally avoided anything close to a shot attempt. That said, he did play within the defense so it wasn't like he was tanking the game or hurting his team that much. But a 0-1 stat line doesn't reflect Crawford at all unless his total playing time is 13 seconds, not 13 minutes. Not helping: 1 block, 1 assist, and 1 turnover are the only other non-zeroes in his stat line.
Kurt Thomas played 18 minutes tonight. Here's what you like about this guy. His offensive confidence is about the size of a baby pea right now. He went 1-5 and just looks awkward, timid, however you want to say it. Still he got 10 monstrous rebounds in those 18 minutes and bodied up against the physical Atlanta big guys. Even though his offensive production wasn't any better, this makes up for a couple of the more brain-dead-seeming games he's had lately. Also of note here: this schedule is probably killing him and will continue to do so.
Elliot Williams splashed 2 shots in 2 minutes for 5 points. Man, if this guy ever gets on a roll...
Craig Smith got 2 rebounds in 2 minutes. Chris Johnson got 2 minutes.
Luke Babbitt played 3 minutes tonight. Did you ever know that guy who always thinks of the perfect thing to say two minutes after the timing would have been right for it? That about describes Babbitt on the court. He's reacting to everything instead of anticipating or playing in the flow. That's not unusual for a young guy but he's also reacting slowly. He's a one-man museum of where the play was two seconds ago.
Fun With Numbers
- Hawks 27 rebounds, Blazers 50. You read that right. The kicker? Each missed exactly 43 shots. That is domination. Also Blazers 15 offensive rebounds, Hawks 4. They're not good offensive rebounders but they average 10.
- Blazers 47% shooting, Hawks 41%. Points in the paint and fast break points were nearly identical, so it's not like the Blazers were getting easy buckets. They just hit their shots tonight.
- Speaking of...Blazers 9-22 from distance, 41%. Thanks small guys! Way to come through!
Feels a lot better to be a Blazer fan right now than it did five days ago, eh? Lakers are next. If the Blazers play with this kind of energy that game ought to be fun.
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