The Blazers' road trip continued in Atlanta Monday, but the story of the night was who was off the court, rather than what was taking place on it against the Hawks.
As reported earlier in the day, Damian Lillard would be sidelined by plantar fascia and miss just the first game of his career, breaking a streak of 275-straight appearances. His fellow backcourt mate CJ McCollum was a scratch as well, with an ankle sprain suffered Sunday against the Miami Heat, leaving Tim Frazier as virtually the only active point guard on the roster.
Frazier played almost wire-to-wire; after a slow start, most of his success came in the second half after the outcome had been mostly decided. He did show ability to quarterback the offense for stretches (7 assists), but also may have tried to do a little too much (5 turnovers).
In any case, fans got a look at as starkly different a Blazer squad as any in recent memory, for better or worse.
Without its two stars, Portland clearly had some figuring out to do about who would pick up the combined 45 points-per-game scoring void left by the absence of Lillard and McCollum.
The answer wasn't exactly pretty - with neither of the Blazers primary playmakers around to disrupt the Atlanta defense, the Hawks stuck its nails onto the perimeter and forced Portland's rag-tag bunch of role players to make plays to beat them. Said plays were few and far between.
Portland characteristically moved the ball well - in fact, all five starters and seven different Blazers overall scored in the opening period - they just didn't score well, with no player netting any more than a single field goal and missing all six three-point attempts.
Frazier looked his usual crafty and energetic self but struggled early with effectiveness; perhaps coming out a bit overeager for his first meaningful bit of playing time this season. He had a tendency to over-dribble into trouble, losing the ball in traffic on more than one occasion and picking up two quick fouls.
End of First: Portland 17, Atlanta 26
After being the forgotten man in the rotation for much of December, Maurice Harkless had a superb second quarter, scoring 12 points and keeping Portland close as Atlanta threatened to open up the score.
Harkless connected on the Blazers' first two threes early in the period, and then drew collective "ooooohs" and "aaaaaahs" from the Atlanta crowd when he threw down a two-handed alley-oop finish which pulled Portland within three at 40-37.
The highlight featured an interesting role-swap between Frazier, who set Harkless free with a screen near the top of the key, and Mason Plumlee, who threw the on-point lob pass out from nearby the three-point line for the nicest of his four first-half assists.
Not much else was cooking - a late run from the Hawks pushed the lead to double-digits heading into the locker room.
Halftime: Portland 43, Atlanta 55
The Hawks started to do what they probably should have 24 minutes earlier and capitalized on Portland's lack of cohesion in the third, blitzing the Blazers in the closing minutes and leaping out ahead.
Dennis Schroder led a run during which Atlanta ballooned its lead to 19 seemingly in just moments. All you need to know about the quarter can be effectively summed up by this shot from Schroder.
One of the few highlights for Portland belonged again to Harkless - albeit with a questionable tech for hanging on the rim.
End of Third: Portland 58, Atlanta 77
After teeter-tottering for most of the final frame, Allen Crabbe went on his own mini-run, scoring 10-straight to help pull the never-say-die Blazers back within single-digits at 99-90.
Still, it wouldn't be enough to will a victory, and despite a final push in the closing minutes, Atlanta would fend off the attack and send the Blazers packing with its fourth-straight loss.
The Blazers have one more game on this long road trip: Wednesday in New Orleans against the improving Pelicans. Stay tuned to Blazer's Edge tonight, for extended analysis of this game from Dave Deckard.
-- Ryan Rosback | email@example.com | Twitter
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