The Portland Trail Blazers faced the Atlanta Hawks on Friday needing a win to turn around their rapidly-flagging season. Portland mustered 111 points behind Damian Lillard, but they couldn’t stop Trae Young or Dejounte Murray. Ultimately Atlanta scored 129 and sent Portland to another road loss. The Blazers now hold a 29-34 record, remaining outside of the precious Play-In seeds in the Western Conference playoffs race.
If you missed the action, you can find our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After that, here are the reasons the Blazers found things less than peachy in Georgia.
Two Insurmountable Problems
The Blazers faced two insurmountable problems in this game. They’re encapsulated by a simple question: How does Portland win?
If you answered, “Hitting three-pointers and Lillard goes for 40,” give yourself a prize.
Here’s how this game went.
The Blazers shot 13-39, 33.3% from the arc. Atlanta shot 12-26, 46.2%. That belied their status as the 8th- and 19th-best teams in the league from distance, respectively. It also took away one of the two planks the Blazers were standing on.
Lillard did his part, scoring 33, on 10-21 shooting, 5-11 from the arc. Fair enough. Except Dejounte Murray scored 41 on 17-22 shooting. a perfect 5-5 from distance. (Someone ask the Blazers number-crunchers how efficient that is. I think it’ll be pretty good.)
Murray equaling/exceeding Lillard took away Portland’s other big advantage. That left the Blazers’ “everything else” versus Atlanta’s. It wasn’t even close.
Beyond that, a number of other issue plagued Portland tonight.
Atlanta built their lead on the back of breakaway layups and dunks. We know Portland isn’t great on defense. That’s nearly a given at this point. But they stocked up with—and are starting—mobile, athletic players who were supposed to improve the defense...eventually.
Even if that moment isn’t here yet, getting back after a shot attempt is the most basic of basics defensively. When the starting lineup was full of veterans, you halfway understood them not running hard all the time, figuring they could probably make up for it. Failing to make it back on defense with a young, hungry lineup is nearly incomprehensible.
The Blazers did clean up the problem as the game went along. Atlanta finished with 10 fast break points. Portland actually won that battle, scoring 17. But spotting an opponent an easy lead on the road is a lot to handle. And, as it turns out, to overcome.
Portland’s overall defense was pretty atrocious too. The Hawks shot 57.1% from the field overall, well above their season average of 47.9%.
The Blazers did manage to force 17 turnovers. That became their calling card in the brief moments they made up ground. Those good defensive plays happened when Portland was able to contain the opponent to one level of the floor, usually the mid-range. But the Blazers were only able to watch one level at a time. As soon as the ball went inside or out, the defense was all but non-existent. As the Blazers prove nightly, being able to guard one area of the floor is just the same as being able to guard no areas of the floor. As soon as the opponent bothers to pass, you’re toast.
Speaking of...Atlanta had an assist on every bucket they made in the first period. This from a team that’s 20th in the league for assists overall. They might as well have been using DishDash for all the trouble they had moving the ball otherwise, save for those rare turnover moments.
Finally, and just as importantly, the Blazers tried to ride Jerami Grant when the Hawks keyed in on Lillard. Grant responded with 14 points on 5-16 shooting from the field, 1-6 from the arc. It just wasn’t there for him. Grant did have 3 steals and helped anchor the brief moments of good defense the Blazers mustered, so it wasn’t a total loss. But it wasn’t what the Blazers needed, especially as they tried to mount a third-quarter comeback.
Cam Reddish did step up in a secondary role, scoring 25 on 9-17 shooting. He looks good right now, but it’s hard to trust that considering Josh Hart scored 20 points per game for the Blazers last year under similar conditions, then ended up getting traded mid-season anyway after producing less than half that.
Ah well, rooting for Reddish and Matisse Thybulle (8 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals in 32 minutes) should provide distraction for Blazers fans during the final 19 games of the season.
Portland’s road trip continues in Orlando on Sunday with a game against the Magic with a 3:00 PM, Pacific start.