A goalscorer rarely beats two.
The Portland Trail Blazers took on the Atlanta Hawks on Friday, needing a win to revive their rapidly flagging season. Portland had 111 points behind Damian Lillard, but they couldn’t stop Trae Young or Dejounte Murray. Eventually, Atlanta scored 129 and sent Portland to another road loss. The Blazers now hold a 29-34 record, remaining outside the prized Play-In seeds in the Western Conference playoff race.
If you missed the action, you can find our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After that, here are the reasons why the Blazers found things less than peachy in Georgia.
Two insurmountable problems
The Blazers faced two insurmountable problems in this game. They are summed up in a simple question: how does Portland win?
If you answered, “Hit three points and Lillard goes for 40”, give yourself a prize.
Here’s how this game went.
The Blazers shot 13-39, 33.3 percent from the arc. Atlanta shot 12-26, 46.2%. This belied their status as the 8th and 19th best teams in the league from a distance, respectively. It also took away one of the two boards 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 a 17-22 shot. a perfect 5-5 from afar. (Someone asks the Blazers number crunchers how effective that is. I think it’ll be pretty good.)
Murray tying/passing Lillard took away Portland’s other big advantage. That left “all the rest” of the Blazers against Atlanta. It wasn’t even close.
Beyond that, a number of other issues plagued Portland tonight.
Atlanta built its lead through breakaway layups and dunks. We know Portland is not good on defense. It’s almost a given at this point. But they sourced – and are starting – mobile, athletic players who were supposed to improve defense…eventually.
Even if that moment hasn’t happened yet, coming back after a shot attempt is the most basic defensive base. When the starting lineup was full of veterans, you half understood that they weren’t running hard all the time, thinking they could probably catch up. Not coming back to defense with a young and hungry formation is almost incomprehensible.
The Blazers resolved the issue as the game progressed. Atlanta finished with 10 quick break points. Portland actually won that battle, scoring 17 points. But spotting an opponent with an easy road lead is a lot to deal with. And, ultimately, to overcome.
Portland’s overall defense was also quite atrocious. The Hawks shot 57.1% from the field overall, well above their season average of 47.9%.
The Blazers managed to force 17 turnovers. It became their calling card in the brief moments when they caught up. Those good defensive plays happened when Portland was able to contain the opponent at a level off the ground, usually the midrange. But the Blazers could only watch one level at a time. As soon as the ball went in or out, the defense was practically non-existent. As the Blazers prove every night, being able to guard an area of the ground is like not being able to guard any area of the ground. As soon as the opponent bothers to pass, you’re toast.
Speaking of…Atlanta got an assist on every bucket they made in the first period. This from a team that is 20th in the league in assists. They might as well have used DishDash for all the trouble they had moving the ball otherwise except for those rare moments of rotation.
Finally, and just as important, the Blazers tried to straddle Jerami Grant when the Hawks grabbed 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 had 3 interceptions and helped anchor the brief moments of good defense the Blazers mustered, so it wasn’t a total loss. But that wasn’t what the Blazers needed, especially as they were trying to make a comeback in the third quarter.
Cam Reddish stepped in in a secondary role, scoring 25 on a 9-17 shot. He’s looking good right now, but it’s hard to believe Josh Hart scored 20 points per game for the Blazers last year on similar terms and then ended up being traded mid-season after he produces less than half.
Well, rooting for Reddish and Matisse Thybulle (8 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals in 32 minutes) should keep Blazers fans entertained in the final 19 games of the season.
The score of the box
Portland’s road trip continues in Orlando on Sunday with a game against the Magic with a 3:00 p.m. Pacific start.