The Atlanta Hawks were on the wrong end of a drumming in a Friday night encounter against the Portland Trail Blazers, 89-110 was the final score.
For the Hawks, Dennis Schröder led the Hawks with 14 points while Taurean Prince added 11 points.
For the Blazers, C.J. McCollum lead all scorers with 20 points while Damian Lillard and Al-Farouq Aminu both added 14 points.
Rough second half
After a rough first quarter, the Hawks managed to claw their way back and a 14 point deficit was reduced to six points by the end of the first half. They hadn’t played especially great in the first half but the Hawks were hanging around, and this paid dividends the last time meeting between these two teams, the Hawks using a strong second half to overturn a Portland lead which eventually led to a blowout.
Instead, the exact opposite of what transpired at Philips Arena in the second half last Saturday against the Blazers happened at the Moda Center.
After trading baskets for the first few minutes of the third quarter, the Blazers, very quickly, turned a three point lead into an 11 point lead, and a 17 point lead very soon after that — a 20-6 run completely turning this game on its head.
Unable to whittle the lead below double-digits by the end of the third quarter, the Hawks entered the final period down 14 points and in a very precarious state: one Portland run would surely end the game — and that’s what happened.
A 9-0 run in the first minute and a half of the fourth quarter saw the Portland lead ballon to 23 points and the game was basically over from that point onwards. Just before falling 23 points behind, Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer had Dennis Schröder at the scorers table, ready to return, but instead it was Tyler Dorsey who was on the floor after the timeout.
It took another two minutes before both coaches cleared their benches (not entirely in the case of Blazers head coach, Terry Stotts) and eight minutes of garbage time (woof) ensued, capping off a very disappointing second half for the Hawks.
“Obviously, the second half Portland played really well and we just weren’t good enough on either end to match their execution offensively, their aggressiveness defensively,” said coach Bud postgame.
Bud believed that there were times in this game where his side were doing a good job executing but couldn’t maintain it.
“I think there were times during the game where we were competitive, times during the game when we were making enough plays on both ends,” said Bud. “We need to keep that momentum going, keep our heads up...”
The Hawks shot 35% from the floor and 33% from three in the second half while the Blazers shot over 50% and 40% from the field and from three respectively...
Turnovers in the second half also killed the Hawks.
After committing just five first half turnovers, the Hawks coughed it up 11 times in the second half and this helped fuel the Blazers’ runs.
Here, a turnover leads to probably one of the biggest shots in the game from Damian Lillard to put the Blazers up by 12 points as they begin to turn the screw:
In the end, Portland scored 22 points off of Atlanta turnovers, 13 of them coming in the second half. It wasn’t so much the volume but it was all about the timing, when it came... And unfortunately for the Hawks it came at the wrong time of the game and they couldn’t handle it.
The Blazers were well worth their win here, they played very well.
Too easy for Portland
The shifting point of this game was definitely the aforementioned stretch in the third quarter. Though the Hawks and Blazers were trading baskets to begin the quarter, they weren’t getting stops and when the Hawks were unable to score, the Blazers kept piling it on.
“It felt like (at) the start of the third quarter we literally couldn’t get a stop,” said Bud of the third quarter. “For the first four, five minutes we may have been scoring and it was relatively close. We just still couldn’t get stops. Sometimes Lillard’s just... He’s a great player. I think a ton of credit to them, a ton of credit to Lillard. They played well, but I think we’ve got to do more to make it hard on them, we’ve got to do more to make them uncomfortable. . . . just felt like we didn’t get any stops.”
Though he only scored 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting (which isn’t a great night for Lillard’s high standards), Lillard was key in this game, dishing six assists but also just being present on the court and being someone you have to place a lot of your defensive attention on — that counts for an awful lot and it’s something the Blazers didn’t have in their last meeting with the Hawks.
“He commands a lot of attention,” said Bud of Lillard. “He shared the ball well . . . he changes the game. He commands a lot of attention and that puts pressure on your defense. They made the right plays tonight, made enough shots around him.”
Going back to something Bud said: “...I think we’ve got to do more to make it hard on them, we’ve got to do more to make them uncomfortable...”
Bud hits the nail on the head here: the Hawks didn’t do a great job defensively in this game and didn’t do enough to make life difficult for the Blazers across the full 48 minutes.
The tone was set from the off with this play: Damian Lillard comes off a screen (which removes Dennis from the play) and Ersan Ilyasova doesn’t step up to contest the shot and it’s an uncontested three for Lillard, who you don’t need to ask him twice to take:
You can’t allow Damian Lillard to take an easy shot like that. Too easy.
Similarly, you can’t allow Lillard’s running mate, C.J. McCollum, to shoot uncontested shots. Here, Malcolm Delaney losing track of Pat Connaughton starts a chain reaction of rotations: Ilyasova is forced to stay near the paint to cut off the pass that would’ve come from Ed Davis to find the cutting Connaughton. Ilyasova was matched up with Shabazz Napier on this play and as Ersan stays in the paint to protect the rim/cut off the backdoor cut, Napier drifts to the corner and takes Prince away from McCollum. This leaves McCollum open behind the arc and Prince’s efforts to scramble and contest are in vain, as Davis finds C.J. for three:
Again, that’s a very easy shot for the Blazers and for a player of McCollum’s talents. You can live with Shabazz Napier taking an uncontested three for a possession but you cannot with C.J. McCollum.
Here, a very basic pick-and-roll between Aminu and Evan Turner allows Turner to get into the paint and no one contests his jumpshot:
I know Evan Turner is not a great jumpshooter, but you cannot allow a professional basketball player to be able to get to the paint so easily and take an uncontested shot at the foul line.
After a turnover, the Blazers come the other way and no one picks up the trailing C.J. McCollum and he steps into an open and uncontested three:
And, finally, well, I’ll let you judge for yourselves. All I’ll say is ‘wow’:
Excellent help defense there... Top notch... (And, not surprisingly, it led to a timeout)
The Blazers shot 53% from the floor in this game (52% in the second half) and 43% from behind the arc (42% in the second half) and it’s not hard to see why: the Hawks just didn’t look sharp at all (hey, maybe that’s possible when you climb a 2,700-foot mountain the day after a game, but of course, it’s entirely possible that that didn’t affect the Hawks here at all, though some jumpers did look a bit shy, and often too, and the team shot 36% from the field... Who knows).
Tough night for the starters
It wasn’t a great night for the Hawks’ starting unit as they all struggled to make an impact in this game.
Dennis Schröder scored 14 points on 5-of-14 shooting from the field, 1-of-4 from three, four assists and four turnovers.
Kent Bazemore scored just seven points on 3-of-9 shooting and, uncharacteristically for Baze, not a lot else: zero rebounds, zero assists, two turnovers, zero steals and one block.
Taurean Prince scored 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting from the field, 1-of-4 from three and gathered eight rebounds.
Ersan Ilyasova scored just nine points on 4-of-11 shooting from the field, 1-of-4 from three but did grab 11 rebounds and had three assists.
And, finally, Miles Plumlee scored four points on 2-of-2 shooting but only had two rebounds in 20 minutes.
In total, the starters — excluding Plumlee — shot 35% from the field and just under 19% from behind the arc and all starters combined for a plus/minus rating of minus+58.
It’s worth noting that pretty much everyone played poorly in this game (bar, perhaps, Isaiah Taylor, Tyler Dorsey when he came in and Malcolm Delaney) but the starters in particular had a rough time of things...
The return of Mike Muscala
For the first time since Nov. 3 (28 games later), Mike Muscala made his long awaited return to the court after complications with his ankle injury sidelined him for much longer than what was anticipated originally.
Moose got to play some extended garbage time in this one and was scoreless in eight minutes, but looked pretty decent defensively in the short time he was on the court.
“Felt really good to be back,” said Muscala postgame. “Obviously a tough loss but it’s been a long time coming, long process. Still got to get my ice-baths in after each game but it definitely felt good to be back out there.”
Muscala was technically available to play against the Suns and he wasn’t called upon in that game, so it would be a little early to assume Muscala is back in the rotation but surely it’s only a matter of time as he is a better player than Miles Plumlee and Tyler Cavanaugh (who has struggled immensely of late).
The Hawks (10-28) are back in action on Sunday as they continue their five game, Western Conference road trip — and part one of the L.A. back-to-back — against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center, in what could be a huge game in determining who may ultimately get the number one overall pick in the 2018 draft (the Lakers have won 11 games to the Hawks’ 10)
Should be interesting. Stay tuned.