Facing the Atlanta Hawks in the fifth game of a six-game road swing on Monday night, the Portland Trail Blazers covered their usual “bingo board” towards a victory. They got big performances from Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Carmelo Anthony made history. They hit 17 three-pointers. Unfortunately for Portland, those three haymakers weren’t enough to knock out the Hawks. Thanks to standout performances from Danilo Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanovic, Atlanta was able to pull away late for a 123-114 victory.
The loss spoiled Portland’s shot at a perfect road trip and dropped them to ½ games back of the Lakers for the No. 7 seed out West. If you missed it, take a look at Dave Deckard’s instant recap. Here are a few additional thoughts.
Hawk By Night, Superhero By Day
At some point throughout life, you’ve likely been asked: if you could have one superpower, what would it be? Tonight, we certainly learned which one Bogdan Bogdanovic picked. Despite setting the tone from the opening tip and leading all Hawks in scoring, the Serbian guard found enough free time to summon his powers of invisibility. Bogdanovic ambushed the Blazers to the tune of 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting from deep, largely due to Portland’s inability to remember where he was on the court. This would’ve been understandable if Bogdanovic were, you know, actually moving.
Consider Bogdanovic’s tape. Portland’s defense continues to be much-maligned and looked forward to by opponents. Their “hope you miss” defense returned in an ugly way and they often seemed to often forget that yes, Bogdanovic was an NBA player.
Which leads to another thought: Portland’s defense for the first 20-ish minutes on Trae Young was admirable. They sent traps on pick-and-rolls and had help ready when he went to his go-to screen rejections. They forced Atlanta to win in other ways. Young doesn’t command the fear that Damian Lillard might have, but Bogdanovic’s big night and the attention paid to Young are closely connected. By game’s end, Atlanta was comfortable using both as a finishing move to put Portland away.
Little Work for Nurk
Given both Portland and Atlanta’s All-Star caliber backcourt talent, it seemed certain that Monday night’s winner would belong to those who got the most of their guards. As fate would have it, the great equalizers came in the frontcourt. Danilo Gallinari was of particular note, chipping in 28 points off the bench, and routinely stretching the floor to get the better of the Blazers’ bigs. Portland hung tight until Gallinari anchored a late-third-quarter run that bled into the fourth. In essence, he rendered the Blazers’ bigs unplayable.
It was reassuring to hear Blazers commentator Lamar Hurd sort of allude to this, too: this would’ve been an ideal time to see if Nurkic could return the favor, using his own bruising back-to-basket game to force Hawks coach Nate McMillan to make a decision. Nurkic has been on a bit of a hot streak: 15.6 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 3.4 assists over his last eight. Over that stretch, 39 of his 44 field goals have come right in the paint.
Instead, the Blazers continually stagnated into their three-point-happy offense, and Nurkic ended the game with just six field goal attempts. When the postseason comes around, it could be a trend to follow, with teams going small to exploit the Blazers’ lack of foot speed, whether they play Nurkic or Kanter at the “5.” If it happens that way, Portland will need to find ways to negate that disadvantage if they hope to play their bigs heavy minutes.
No. 00 Jumps to No. 10
Portland had opportunities to take control of tonight’s game early on, in large part because of how Carmelo Anthony began the game. He seemed to relish the 1-on-1 opportunities with Gallinari, taking him out to the dance floor and putting on a show in those isolation opportunities. The negative takeaway here is that Anthony’s shooting stroke betrayed him literally the second after he passed Elvin Hayes early in the second period for the No. 10 spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. But hey, history is history.
Anthony began the game shooting 4-of-4, but finished 5-of-11. Chances are, he’s going to be on the wrong end of a few of those Gallinari highlights. One play in particular — when Anthony went “under” a Gallinari screen with him heating up — felt so noticeable, you didn’t need an HDTV to see it. Get some rest and enjoy your beds tonight; SportsCenter won’t be worth it tonight. Anthony’s historic milestone is means for a quick smile, though.
Dame Adds a Few More Bruises
This likely isn’t top takeaway caliber since he went on to continue playing, but late in the second half of tonight’s game, Damian Lillard appeared hobbled, injuring his left ankle. Every tweak, strain, or soreness will be likely met with a collective sigh, especially after he admitted a few weeks ago that this has been the testiest season of his career in terms of pain management and lingering injuries.
You’ll never know it from the box score, though. Lillard added another brilliant individual performance, with 33 points on 11-of-19 shooting, including 6-of-11 from deep. He’s become a nightly Operation game board; you just wonder what sort of pain he’s going to have to overcome on any given night. It deserves a mention here, since Portland preps for a Wednesday night game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday.
Take a look at Dave Deckard’s instant recap of tonight’s game.
The Blazers hope to avoid the wrong side of history when they face the Cleveland Cavaliers, winners of two of their last 11.