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Missed free throws prove costly in loss to Blazers as Hawks begin road trip

Without Trae Young, the Hawks put up a fight in Portland.

Atlanta Hawks v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks were unable to begin their Western Conference road trip with victory, falling short 129-125 in Portland on Monday night.

With Trae Young sidelined with an ankle injury, Dejounte Murray poured out a career-high 40 points, while Bogdan Bogdanovic added 23 points off the bench. For the Trail Blazers, Damian Lillard scored 42 points, Jerami Grant added 22 points.

A high octane game at the Moda Center last night between these two sides, an entertaining one, despite the many stoppages in the second half with 39 free throws attempted between the two in the second half.

The Hawks only held the lead once in this game but kept pace with the Blazers for basically the entire game, other than a brief period of the fourth quarter where the Hawks fell behind by double digits. However, an 8-0 Atlanta run down the stretch tied the game at 119-119 with just over a minute remaining, mostly off the back of free throws from Dejounte Murray who drew multiple shooting fouls:

Murray drew multiple fouls on Lillard, both sending him to the free throw line where he dispatches all of his attempts:

To split those two possessions, Lillard gets the jump out front and finishes at the rim:

Difficult one for the Hawks here with Capela drawn out front with the Drew Eubanks screen and both Capela and Collins show hesitation on the help, with Murray falling behind early, and Lillard punishes all of the above to give the Blazers the lead again.

After Murray’s free throws tie the game, the Blazers reply with a quick basket as Lillard finds Simons for the go-ahead three-pointer, leading to a Hawks timeout:

For someone with a defensive reputation, this was really poor from Dejounte Murray here. Yes, Lillard is an elite offensive player and you can’t stand off him but one quick burst and Murray is absolutely done, forcing Hunter to step up and this leaves Simons enough room to take and make the three.

When it came down to it on the offensive end for the Blazers when the game was tied at 119 and then again at 121, they scored, really, two very easy baskets given how late it was in the game: a drive to the rim with no challenge at the rim and a simple drive and kick (more on this later).

Out of the subsequent timeout, Bogdan Bogdanovic draws the shooting foul on a three with 27.8 seconds remaining, giving the Hawks a chance to tie the game at the line. However, Bogdanovic misses the first and third free throws and while normally the fact he misses two free throws trailing three would be inconsequential (missing one is the same as missing two at the end of the da when you need all three), the first missed free throw meant obviously that the Hawks wouldn’t tie the game from this situation and the miss on the third free throw — after a scramble for the rebound — meant that the clock dipped just above 24 seconds, giving possession not only to the Blazers but now the Hawks are forced to play the foul game and when the Hawks commit their second foul in the last two minutes there are 23.9 seconds remaining.

Jerami Grant is sent to the line where he dispatches both free throws to give the Blazers a four point lead, and Bogdanovic’s three on the other end is missed and from here the jig is basically up with the Hawks having to foul again, down four, with 10.9 seconds remaining. Josh Hart splits the resulting free throws after the foul and while Bogdanovic did have a three left in the locker, Lillard would ice the game from the line to give the Blazers a four point victory.

Postgame, Hawks head coach Nate McMillan’s comments seemed to allude to those final defensive possessions, bemoaning the Hawks being unable to come up with defensive stops as well as the Trail Blazers hitting 19 three-pointers, just after the Clippers hit 19 threes against the Hawks on Saturday.

“I thought they made plays most of the night,” said McMillan postgame. “We made runs, they made shots or got to the basket. We just couldn’t get enough stops. We were eventually able to fight our way back into the game but we end up allowing them to score, whether it getting to the basket or, again, another team knocks down 19 threes on us, that’s part of trying to mix defense to control a hot hand. They made their shots when they needed to.”

Those two go-ahead baskets from the Blazers are worth talking about again — they were shockingly poor baskets to give up at that stage of the game.

Even the Blazers were surprised at how easy it was. Damian Lillard explained post game the two plays when the game was tied in the fourth quarter (at 119-119 and 121-121) and just how easy it was, almost surprised at how easy it was.

“We just wanted to spread them out,” said Lillard postgame. “I was just going attack mode, one-on-one, with the middle of the floor open. It was the same thing. I had been attacking all night. It was a few plays before that, it was a tie game, I went by the guy (Murray) and it was a guy right in front of me (Collins). I just faked the pass and he went for it and I laid it up and we went back up by two. On that play when Ant hit the shot, I went left-to-right and the guy (Murray) literally just sold out, the same as he did the previous time. I looked over and I was like, ‘They helped all the way off Ant.’ At that point it’s an easy call. I know I could probably get between there and make a shot but Ant wide open on the wing, his man helping one pass away, at that point of the game it was an easy call. It was a simple play.”

“Honestly I’m not used to them helping off that much, even if Dame’s dropping,” added a smiling Simons of his late three. “I wasn’t really expecting the ball but I was prepared for it. Usually they don’t help off of me like that. He (Hunter) was way off and I got a pretty much easy three to get off. It was as easy as it come!”

Those comments from the Blazers of how easy it was are extremely telling. It’s almost a joke in their eyes, and given how easy it was they’re right to feel that way. For a game that was as close as it was for so much of it, it was ridiculously easy for the Blazers to get those clutch baskets. And that reflects poorly on Dejounte Murray, who was the point of attack defender both of those possessions on Lillard.

Stopping the Blazers was difficult all night for the Hawks, who posted their first block-less game of the season. The Blazers scored 129 points on 54% shooting from the field, 19 threes on 47.5% shooting and 24-of-27 from the free throw line, with Damian Lillard shooting 17-of-17 from the line.

Lillard was fantastic in this game, forcing the Hawks to adjust after scoring 18 within the first 16 minutes of the game. The Blazers had significant help for Lillard’s 42 points, with both Jerami Grant and Anfernee Simons adding 22 and 21 points apiece, their scoring efforts only slightly enlarged by the Hawks’ added attention on Lillard, who was killing the Hawks in one-on-one.

“It’s part of the game, you’ve got to adapt to what’s going on in the game,” said McMillan. “Damian was hot with single coverage. He did a good job of getting the ball out, they did a good job of moving the ball and knocking down shots, that’s what you should do when teams double you. When we didn’t take the ball out of his hands he was pretty productive, getting to the free throw line 17 times and making all 17 free throws. The scrambles, we’ve got to force those misses when we get the ball out of the hands of guys like that.”

Speaking of free throws, the Hawks shot 24-of-30 from the line, the only missed free throws coming right at the end from Bogdanovic, as well as John Collins’ struggles from the line last night, shooting 2-of-6 from the line. Collins had a good game, 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting, but his missed free throws and Bogdanovic’s missed free throws late did end up proving particularly costly.

The free throws were a small blemish on a good game from Bogdanovic, who scored 23 points on 7-of-16 from the field and 4-of-10 from three to go along with a season-high seven assists, leading a strong bench effort last night to go along with AJ Griffin’s 13 points and Onyeka Okongwu’s eight points, helping the Hawks outscore the Blazers’ bench 46-23.

The bench scoring was one of a number of the aspects that went well for the Hawks last night, though it could have been more had Jalen Johnson featured at all...a puzzling DNP-CD last night for Johnson.

Clint Capela grabbed 10 offensive rebounds helping the Hawks to 17 offensive rebounds leading to 21 second chance points, as well as committing just seven turnovers on the game, shooting 46.8% from the field, 43% from three, getting to the line for 30 free throw attempts and 26 assists.

“I thought we did some good things,” said Nate McMillan. “We did a good job of fighting our way back into the game, we only had seven turnovers during the game, we got to the free throw line 30 times, we were aggressive attacking the paint, we shot a good percentage from the three-point line. It comes down to the importance of every single possession of a game. It matters. A lot of these games are coming to a one, two, three point game. Every possession matters. Tonight we didn’t finish and they did.”

Top of the list was Dejounte Murray’s new career-high of 40 points, eclipsing his previous best of 39 points against the Houston Rockets in November.

Murray shot 13-of-25 from the field, 5-of-8 from three and 9-of-9 from the free throw line, most of those coming late in the contest at a crucial time in the game down the stretch.

Murray was on it, he was absolutely on it in the absence of Young — he had the jumpshot going, and when he has that jumpshot going Murray is a dangerous proposition. It was fun to watch Murray and Lillard go toe-to-toe, with Lillard emerging on top with 42 points largely thanks to those 17 free throws.

For as much as Murray has struggled shooting the ball this season, he’s actually up to 36% shooting from three on 5.6 attempts, which by far the best of his career on this volume of shooting (excluding the 39% shooting on 0.9 attempts in his rookie season). Defensively I thought Murray was a bit disappointing, and it was Aaron Holiday — who started in place of Young — who guarded Lillard, with Murray guarding Simons. When Murray did guard Lillard late in the game, the result was as you saw above.

De’Andre Hunter, meanwhile, guarded Jerami Grant, who shot 8-of-17 from the field. Conversely on the offensive end, Hunter really struggled offensively last night scoring 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting. It was one of those nights for Hunter where he just couldn’t get anything going. There’s been a few of those this season where Hunter shoots poorly on a similar volume and when it does happen it feels like it comes at a time where the Hawks absolutely need Hunter to have an efficient night, just like last night with no Trae Young.

Hunter just didn’t have the jumper going:

All-in-all, an entertaining game where both sides traded baskets for much of it with both sides scoring well, shooting efficiently but ultimately it came down to those two go-ahead baskets for the Blazers that came far too easily and the missed free throws from Bogdanovic which changed the complexion of the final 24 seconds which meant instead of it being a tied game the Hawks had to play the free throw game from behind, one they could not win.

This was a winnable game despite Atlanta being behind for the majority and the Hawks might see this one as a lost opportunity to begin their road trip, this being the first five games on the road, with some difficult games ahead against better opposition, the Nuggets and Pelicans to name a couple.

The Blazers were worth their victory — they did lead for basically the entire game, Lillard had a big game and he had two other teammates who scored 20 or more points to back him up and they did enough to see them through in a tight affair.

The Hawks (25-26) are back in action on Wednesday against the Phoenix Suns (27-25) as their road trip continues.

The yearly trip to Phoenix usually is one to entertain, and in theory this should be no exception.

Until next time...