The Portland Trail Blazers came close to beating the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night...closer than the 122-113 final score would suggest. The Blazers streaked out to big leads in the first half, only to get reeled in by Trae Young’s 44 points and a Hawks defense determined to keep the Blazers from easy buckets on the break. It was as exciting of a loss as Portland has experienced all season.
If you missed the game, you can find our quarter-by-quarter recap here.
Once you’re up to speed, here are other observations from the contest.
The Blazers prospered in this game when their energy was higher than Atlanta’s. It’s a familiar story: force turnovers, run, rebound hard. Obviously Portland isn’t fielding the most talented lineup ever, but that means their players have not seen a lot of action this season. Their legs are fresher than anybody else’s.
It’s an interesting experiment. How much can vigor and verve boost a team over more talented, but also more weary, opponents? In the first half, it appeared that extra energy would become a magic tonic for the Blazers. In the second half, the Hawks proved that there’s a limit.
The flip side of that coin: when the Hawks slowed Portland down into a halfcourt-based offense, their utter lack of scoring power showed. As the game progressed, the Blazers went away from running and passing, straight into standing and watching various players take turns getting up isolation shots. It wasn’t effective. The Blazers committed 20 turnovers in this game, most coming on this kind of play. If you force Portland to play “your turn, my turn” ball, they’re sunk.
The Blazers’ defense still needs plenty of work, but they got back in transition “D” tonight quite well. Atlanta just wasn’t fast enough to escape them, even when ahead on the break. If the first player down the court wore a Hawks uniform, the second through fifth were Trail Blazers. That kind of commitment speaks volumes about how hard Portland is playing right now.
Trendon Watford was one of the shining stars for the Blazers, putting up 22 points with 9 rebounds and 4 blocks. Even that great line doesn’t tell the whole story. Watford is playing as smart as anyone in Portland’s lineup right now. Josh Hart has more experience and more junk in the trunk, but Watford is probably next in line for general helpfulness. Whether setting picks, making passes, finding seams, or rotating, Watford appears to see the opportunities before they unfold. Keep watching.
We’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating. One of the wonderful things about watching this team is how confidently they shoot. Granted, that confidence is often misplaced, especially from the perimeter. They look a lot better when scoring inside than lofting jumpers. Still, not a player on the squad hesitates when the shot is open. Normal looks, tight situations...it doesn’t matter. This speaks volumes not just about them, but about Portland’s system.
Josh Hart had another fantastic night, scoring 31 on 11-21 shooting, 4-7 from distance. Hart also initiated Portland’s offense on multiple occasions. He’s got plenty of tools in the toolkit. The lack of veterans around him allows him to show every single one.
Hart has now tallied 75 points in the last 48 hours. Wow.
The Blazers continue to hide their lack of general firepower with strong interior play. They scored 62 points in the paint tonight, a huge number that followed on the heels of their 70-point lane barrage on Saturday.
Unfortunately Portland couldn’t bring the other two legs of the happy triangle into play. Rebounding looked good in the first half, but ebbed as the game slowed down. The Hawks had 17 offensive rebounds, the Blazers 11. The fast break battle went Portland’s way, but only barely, 11-10. Add in 30 made free throws for the Hawks against 15 for Portland, and there just weren’t enough easy points to help the Blazers over the wall.
Hart, Watford, and Drew Eubanks looked great tonight, but Brandon Williams really sparkled. He scored 20 on 8-17 shooting, with wings on his sneakers driving to the lane. He kept leaving Atlanta defenders looking the other direction as he swooped in for layups. Williams looked good on the run, too. His point-guarding needed a little work once the game slowed. That said, his pure scoring ability almost helped turn this game.
New 10-day emergency point guard Kris Dunn debuted in this game. He played 20 minutes with 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals but shot only 1-6 from the floor. He also committed 4 turnovers and 6 fouls.
The Blazers travel to New York to face the Knicks on Wednesday at 4:30, Pacific time.