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Terrible Defense Ruins Sweet-Shooting Game for Blazers Against Hawks

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How do you turn a 117-point, 50%-shooting performance against one of the league’s worst teams into a loss? Portland does it in three easy steps.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers entered Saturday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks in desperate need of a win in order to boost their hopes for gaining a seed in the 2020 NBA Playoffs. As it turned out, there was no boost and no win, just some desperately bad defense leading to a 129-117 blowout for the Hawks. Atlanta played like they were on the second night of a back to back, but the Blazers played like they were on the fifth night of a Vegas bender. Once the Hawks took the lead in the second period, the game was never close.

First Quarter

The Blazers tried to manufacture points out of size/skill mismatches early, going through Carmelo Anthony and Hassan Whiteside. Results were mixed. Both scored, but also missed. Anthony turned over the ball twice within two minutes. Atlanta wasn’t much better, airballing threes, looking in fine pre-season form. The Blazers started to pull away late in the quarter behind increased guard scoring against the Atlanta bench. Whiteside continued to punish the Hawks inside throughout. The Blazers led 28-23 after the first.

Second Quarter

Portland’s second unit picked up the pace as the second quarter commenced. They shot freely at the rim and the arc, hampered only by their propensity to over-dribble in the halfcourt. They couldn’t defend well, however. The middle opened up for the Hawks, then the three-pointers came. Every edge the Blazers tried to build, Atlanta blunted. 50+ percent shooting (much of it coming from the paint) served the Hawks well. They overtook Portland at the 5:00 mark, kept CJ McCollum locked down under the watchful eye of Cam Reddish, and cruised to a 63-56 halftime lead.

Third Quarter

The Blazers needed to come out in the second half making a statement. If they did, it was, “We intend to let De’Andre Hunter get any shot he wants.” Hunter knocked down threes, which opened up the floor entirely...a floor the Blazers were barely guarding as it was.

Atlanta hit 5 three-pointers in the first six minutes of the third, opening up a 16-point lead. Trae Young tried to dribble through Trevor Ariza’s legs with 5:35 on the clock, for which he earned a forearm shiver to the face. Ariza was charged with a Flagrant 1 foul, but the incident underscored how impotent and frustrated the Blazers were at that point more than any particular passion. The only real fire came on Blazers Twitter, where everyone from fans to media members were offering conclusions they should have reached two months, or two seasons, ago. Atlanta led 107-90 after three.

For perspective, that’s three full periods averaging 30 points for the Blazers, but their defense was so bad, the game wasn’t even close.

Fourth Quarter

The Blazers played their young guys through much of the fourth, except for Anfernee Simons who rolled his ankle and went straight to the locker room. The score never got tight.

Analysis

Defense continues to be the story of the season for the Blazers. It was certainly the story of this game. Portland allowed 129 points and 54.1% shooting from the field. Their defensive strategy appeared to be to huddle like mice, then hope the Hawks choked as they ate them. Atlanta’s digestive tract was unharmed. Defense made a mockery out of Portland’s own 50% shooting clip from the floor.

CJ McCollum had moments against the Hawks, but his runs were usually brief and never decisive. The ball wasn’t moving enough either to or from him. Anthony, Whiteside, and bail-out passes to ancillary players for three-point attempts defined Portland’s offense far more than McCollum’s scoring or playmaking ability. Still, CJ scored 35 on 14-26 shooting. He went 3-9 from distance, 4-6 from the foul line.

Speaking of three-pointers, Portland shot 8-28, 28.6% and allowed Atlanta 18-42, 42.9%. Ouch.

No...let’s say that again. The Blazers allowed the Hawks enough three-point attempts that they might as well have been the league-leading Houston Rockets, then allowed them a high enough percentage that as a team they would rank among the Top 10 three-point shooters in the NBA this year. (Right above Justin Holiday of the Indiana Pacers, just below his teammate Doug McDermott.) By the way, the Hawks are the worst three-point shooting team in the league.

Wow.

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Boxscore

We forbade our writers to do an Instant Recap on this game.

The Blazers (and the injured Simons) will get a day to travel and recoup before facing the Orlando Magic on Monday at 4:00 PM, Pacific.