The Trail Blazers were unable to protect their first half lead against the Atlanta Hawks tonight, eventually falling flat in a 104-89 defeat. With Damian Lillard out, CJ McCollum and Shabazz Napier combined for 39 points. Portland’s backcourt scoring was unable to overcome a turnover-hungry Hawks defense in the second half, though. The Blazers scored a paltry 37 points in the final two frames, an ending every bit as uninspiring as it sounds.
True Grit Proves False in Second Half
The game opened with the Hawks trying to push the pace. The Blazers countered by methodically working the ball into the paint. Thanks to a Taurean Prince 3-pointer, Atlanta won the battle of contrasting styles through the first five minutes of action and built a 10-5 lead. Ersan Ilyasova’s hot shooting expanded the lead to seven, but an eight-point flurry from Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum got the Blazers within two at the midpoint of the quarter. After briefly taking the lead back, Portland’s reserves had trouble keeping pace. The Hawks finished the first quarter ahead 25-23.
Shabazz Napier put the Blazers up early in the second quarter by connecting on a shot beyond the arc. Pat Connaughton and Maurice Harkless joined in on the three-point barrage, giving Portland a 34-30 lead at the 9:46 mark. Marco Belinelli’s expert shooting from the midrange kept the Hawks within striking distance as the Blazers continued to torch the net from outside. With Atlanta’s defense focused on snuffing out McCollum’s scoring chances, Napier found success. Portland flirted with a double-digit lead, but were unable to get over the hump. The offense stagnated in the final minute, and the Blazers finished the half ahead 52-46.
The Blazers opened the third quarter with a 5-0 run, but quickly surrendered a 6-0 run to the Hawks. Portland was unable to cling to its slight lead in the face of a Kent Bazemore third quarter barrage, eventually falling behind with just under 4:00 remaining in the third. Atlanta’s focus on attacking the paint opened their perimeter game, allowing them to finish the third quarter ahead 72-69.
Portland started the final frame ice cold. Ed Davis broke the drought after three minutes of sloppy offense, but the Blazers were already on the wrong end of an 8-point margin. Atlanta successfully forced turnovers, finishing with ease in the paint on the offensive end. Portland never found any form of rhythm, succumbing to their eventual 104-89 demise.
O Defense, Where Art Thou?
The Blazers held the Hawks to just six points in the paint in the first half. Unfortunately the defensive intensity fell apart in the second half, as Portland surrendered 22 points inside in the final two quarters of play. Thanks to Portland’s soft middle, the Hawks were able to string together long scoring runs.
Atlanta is one of the best teams in the NBA at forcing turnovers, and they proved it tonight. The Hawks feasted on the Lillard-less Blazers by forcing the 20 TO’s. Portland had no answer for the defensive pressure, that 37-point second half standing as proof.
Poor interior defense by Portland also led to wide open shots from beyond the arc for Atlanta. Taurean Prince, Tyler Cavanaugh, and Marco Belinelli combined to go 9-for-15 from three.
Intolerable Cruelty (in the boxscore)
Shabazz Napier was one of the few bright spots from this underwhelming performance. He provided the driving force behind Portland’s first half lead, putting together shots of his own while finding open teammates. He finished the night with 21 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists.
CJ McCollum was targeted early and often by Atlanta’s opportunistic defense. He was held to four points in the third quarter, and finished the night 8-21 from the field.
Ed Davis, as usual, played with the same level of intensity in all his minutes on the floor. He recorded 8 points and 7 rebounds in his 20 minutes of action.
Jusuf Nurkic was unable to carry over his second half magic from his last outing into this contest. He failed to rotate on several defensive possessions, which resulted in easy looks for the Hawks. Nurkic finished the night with just 8 points after going 3-for-11 from the field.
Zach Collins was held to just two points, but the rookie did an admirable job slowing down Ersan Ilyasova in the second quarter. Collins finished the night going 1-for-6 from the field, and he committed a single foul in his 17 minutes of action.
Burn After Reading
Our friends at Peachtree Hoops are celebrating the New Year early by claiming win No. 10.
The Blazers return to action on Monday when they visit Chicago to face the Bulls.
—Steve / @SteveDHoops / BEdgeSteve@gmail.com