Well, you can't win them all I suppose.
The funny thing about this game is that the Hawks did to the Blazers what the Blazers usually do to other teams when Portland is playing well. They put pressure on with guard scoring, got a forward off with the defensive cracks that caused, manned up on the boards, and shut down everybody but the opponent's main scorers. It was like, "Hey...this looks familiar. So that's what it feels like!"
This was not a bad game from the Blazers though. You knew it was going to be a rough night early when Portland was shooting covered, late, and outside. The Blazers righted the ship, mostly due to Brandon Roy and his Unstoppable Scoring Show, but the Atlanta defense was active and effective for most of this game. Meanwhile Joe Johnson was busy with his own scoring clinic. He did everything but stop mid-air to sign autographs, and I believe Nicolas Batum would have taken one if he had done that. Johnson ended up 15-27 for the night, scoring 35. He and Roy were the story of the entire first half. Neither team posted more than 21 in either of the first two quarters. The score was 42-39 Atlanta going into the break. The Blazers were hustling and rebounding. It just wasn't converting into points.
One of the tactics Atlanta used to foil Portland in the first half was double-teaming LaMarcus Aldridge every time he got hot. We targeted him on certain possessions and when they shut him down the offense just died. Another reason their defense worked well was their athleticism. They had the speed and length to help out and then close out. They couldn't stop Roy but guys like Blake and Batum just don't hit many shots with people in the vicinity.
The second half saw two major developments. First, LaMarcus started going off like a firecracker in a match factory. He wasn't getting inside as much as he had been in the first half but his jumper was falling left and right. With Roy still sneaking through the cracks the Blazers actually looked good on offense for about a five-minute stretch. However nobody else came to the party for Portland.
Atlanta started to hit the glass harder in the second half too. Portland was still moving but rebounds that were clearly in Portland's possession in the opening quarter started falling into Hawks' hands. It was the same with loose balls. Portland had a nose for the ball in the first half but the tide turned later. Now Atlanta was getting all of the extra shots.
The slow leak of the Hawks out-hustling the Blazers turned into a full-on tidal wave once Mike Bibby and Josh Smith got free. Bibby killed Portland from the arc, Smith on the cut. That, combined with Portland already being a beat slow on the boards, defense, and to loose balls, blew the game open. The white flag was out halfway through the fourth quarter and it was time to start thinking about Memphis tomorrow night.
It was a shame to waste a 29-point outing by Brandon combined with a 19-point night for Aldridge and a 14-rebound stand for Przybilla. Usually that spells "WIN" for Portland. But because of fatigue, being overmatched, or just dumb luck those were the only sustained contributions today and they weren't enough.
By the time the blowout was over the Hawks had put up 82 shots to Portland's 69. They shot 51.2% while Portland managed 46.4%. Giving up 13 more shots and 5 more percentage points makes it pretty hard to win. Portland was 2-13 from distance so no extra points came there. The Blazers did shoot 20 foul shots to Atlanta's 14 but it ended up only a 5-point difference. Offensive rebounds were even when the Blazers needed an edge. Portland only had 11 assists. The Hawks had 9 steals and forced 15 turnovers for 23 points. The Blazers forced 5 turnovers for 8 points.
10:00 a.m. games after travel are hard.
--Brandon did what he could with 11-19 shooting, 6-6 from the foul line, adding 5 assists and 4 rebounds. The Blazers tried to protect him from having to guard Johnson but none of the alternatives worked and by the time Brandon got on him I don't think a straight jacket would have made a difference. As it stood, Brandon could have scored 40 today and we still would have lost.
--LaMarcus started strong on the glass and evolved into a jump-shooting nightmare. As we said, the Hawks keyed on him. He looked stymied in the first half but adjusted in the second. He stayed aggressive on offense though his rebounding went away. Overall he was 9-15 from the field. He had only 2 free throws. He scored 19 and added 6 boards. It was a good game from him, not spectacular.
--Joel Przybilla did everything he could defensively today but many of the shots were coming from other areas or were already so close to the rim that he couldn't help. He did have 14 boards in 28 minutes. He had 5 turnovers as well. That Atlanta frontcourt gets up in your business and that's not good for Joel's handle.
--Steve Blake had a poor outing all-around. He was 4-14 from the field, 1-6 from the three-point arc, netting 3 assists and 9 points in 38 minutes. Mike Bibby didn't go off for 27 again but Blake's defense wasn't much of a factor overall. Mostly you saw his difficulty hitting shots under pressure. This wasn't a game that catered to his strengths.
--Nicolas Batum drew Joe Johnson as a defensive assignment and he got destroyed. That's all we need to say about that...other than remembering that few people are going to stop Johnson when he's on.
--Travis Outlaw played 32 minutes and got 6 rebounds and 10 points. He actually did a credible job on Johnson for a sustained run in the second quarter, which was a pleasant surprise. It was Travis' kind of game offensively, as everyone was going one-on-one. He just didn't get that many touches.
--Rudy played 17 minutes, Jerryd 10, Channing 8, Sergio 6, plus 3 each for Randolph and Ruffin. You ready for their combined contribution? 1-7 shooting, 0-4 threes (those were all Rudy), 3-6 free throws (thank God for Ruffin's 2-2), 8 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals, 1 block, 3 turnovers, 5 personal fouls, and 5 points. That's ugly. At least Rudy got some floor time to work off the rust.
OK...so this game isn't the be-all and end-all of the trip. It's important that this not turn into two straight losses tomorrow evening in Memphis. The Blazers already looked tired in the second half of this game. Aldridge, Roy, and Blake played substantial minutes. The defensive assignments don't get easier with Mayo, Gay, and Gasol tomorrow. Let's hope the supporting cast is ready to put on a better performance.
Check out the victory party at PeachTreeHoops.
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