The Portland Trail Blazers hoped to get their last big road trip of the 2022-23 season off to a good start on Friday evening, facing Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks. Spoiler alert: it didn’t happen. The Hawks jumped all over Portland’s defense early, held on for a double-digit lead at the half, then blew out the Blazers with a huge third quarter that ensured the final period would be meaningless. When the smoke cleared, Young had 23, backrout mate Dejounte Murray 41, and the Blazers fell 129-111.
Damian Lillard scored 33 in the loss. The next nearest scorer was Cam Reddish with 25.
Portland now falls to 29-34, slipping farther back of the 2023 NBA Playoffs picture with every loss.
If the Blazers planned to improve their defense tonight, they had a funny way of showing it. The Hawks hit 3 of their first 4 shots en route to a 9-4 lead before three minutes had elapsed. To be fair. a few of their early shots were mid-range pull-ups, normally the kind of shot you want an opponent taking. A few Atlanta players specialize in those, though, and they also got threes and dunks.
The Blazers held in as the Blazers do, on the back of Damian Lillard, who hit a three and a sideline shot of his own. Those shots put a little life into his teammates. They started getting closer to shooters, forcing those mid-rangers to miss. Had they gotten back in transition defense too, it would have been ok. They didn’t quite...curious for a young team with players supposedly hungry to make the league. The Blazers still trailed 13-7 at the 6:30 mark when Head Coach Chauncey Billups called a timeout to try and remind them.
The real issue for Portland came at the arc. As soon as their defense got stiffer in the middle, Atlanta stood wide open on the perimeter. The Hawks are mediocre three-point shooters, but not under those conditions. They pretty much hundred-percented the first ten minutes of the period, until the second units came in. With Portland STILL not getting back in transition, the points came pretty easy for the home team. Atlanta led 31-19 after one, and that was with Trae Young scoring only 4 on 1-6 shooting in the period. Uh oh.
Lillard did have 12 points in 9 minutes, though. At least there was that.
The threes stopped falling for Atlanta at the beginning of the second, but it hardly mattered, because they tattooed the lane with serious ink. A 42-28 lead at the 8:00 mark left observers wondering when the Blazers planned to get into the game, if at all.
Matisse Thybulle and Cam Reddish each hit a three mid-period. That helped. Lillard also took over briefly, pushing him towards the obligatory 20-point half.
Just when all hope appeared lost, turnovers came to the rescue. Thybulle and Jerami Grant got their Wonder Twin powers going, forcing the Hawks into a half-dozen empty trips and a couple of miscues. Grant also hit a bucket and drew a couple of foul shots on the offensive end, accompanied by Reddish, who hit two free throws of his own and a breakaway dunk. With 4:00 left in the half, the Blazers were back within single digits, by 3:00 within six.
In the ultimate, “It figures...” moment, though, Dejounte Murray hit a bail-out three with a single second left on the shot clock, 2:32 remaining in the half. The Blazers played 23.5 seconds of good defense, but got stabbed by the triple, which gave Murray 21 points for the half—exceeding Dame—and put Atlanta up 10 again.
The Hawks had 9 turnovers at the half, but also a 59-49 lead. Lillard had 18 but Murray posted 23, out Dame-ing Dame.
The Blazers tried to get out of the starting blocks fast in the third, with Jerami Grant getting open looks at the top of the arc, then at the sideline and on the diagonal off of a Lillard dish. None of Grant’s threes fell. Atlanta’s transition opportunities did. The Hawks played fast. The Blazers shot long. Only one of those things worked.
Lillard was trying to spark his team, as usual, but with no teammates hitting, he fell prey to constant and varied defensive looks from the Hawks. Atlanta got to throw as many players as desired at him with no consequences.
On the other end, Lillard drew 6’8 De’Andre Hunter, who banged against him and drew fouls. When he wasn’t bruising Portland’s superstar, Clint Capela was snagging offensive rebounds like Easter eggs on a field of snow. The Hawks led 78-64 halfway through the period.
At that point, the Blazers showed a heartbeat, forcing a couple more turnovers and stiffening the defense. Atlanta went through an extended drought, bricking jumpers as you’d expected them to all game.
Unfortunately, Portland hit a drought at the exact same time, going three minutes without a field goal. The Hawks weren’t that far ahead, but converting zero field goals makes it hard to catch up.
Then the drought ended with Trae Young hitting back-to-back threes and a pair of free throws. Ouch. Thybulle and Shaedon Sharpe both scored too, but the advantage was still Atlanta’s.
And that was before Young hit this third three, nearly completely unguarded. Back-to-back turnovers as the quarter closed prevented Portland from answering.
When the buzzer sounded on the period, the Hawks led 97-76. Ouch.
Portland needed a miracle to stage any kind of comeback in the fourth. They hit 6 of their first 7 shots, trying desperately to engineer one. Reddish accounted for three of those, shooting with no concern at the arc. But the Blazers allowed Atlanta an equal number of makes, leaving themselves down 20 even after the third of Reddish’s strikes. For reference, they were only down 19 when the period began.
Reddish continued the opportunistic scoring through the period, putting up 15 in the frame, but it didn’t make much of a difference. Nor did re-inserting Lillard, despite his scoring. In the end, nothing was going to save this game. All they could do was try to make it look a little better.
Stay tuned for analysis following the game!
Portland’s road trip continues in Orlando on Sunday with a game against the Magic, a 3:00 PM, Pacific start.