Hawks Jump On Top, Hold On
It was a much different game than we saw on Saturday night at the Rose Garden against San Antonio, but it doesn't matter in the end- it's still a loss.
I've often heard it mentioned that there's nothing more meaningless in a game than a first-quarter, double-digit lead. Not that it really matters, but I've never agreed with that. Too many times I've watched the opening minutes of a game not only set the tone, but be the
story of the game.
Against Atlanta on Monday night, the Blazers were very sloppy with the basketball right out of the gates. They spotted the Hawks a 9-0 run, and really, Portland never recovered. Yes, they did battle back to take a lead in the fourth quarter thanks to a 15-2 run, but immediately handed control back to the Hawks, who ended up scoring the final 10 points of the game and won it 95-87.
Saturday was a disappointing loss, but certainly explainable, as the Spurs are always tough to beat and simply won that ballgame. Tonight, really for the first time this season, the Trail Blazers will say they lost this one. They lost it by committing 20 turnovers, and by once again going silent offensively in the final minutes.
Unlike Saturday, Nic Batum, who was devastating with his late-game heroics against the Spurs, took only three shots in the final 12 minutes against Atlanta. Still, he ended with 19 points and 7 rebounds, but very down in the locker room after the loss. He simply said most of the plays late in the game were run for LaMarcus Aldridge, and he just didn't have the ball much.
Another story from Saturday, that didn't work out to be a factor tonight, was the fact that the Hawks shot only 44 percent. The Blazers allowed the Spurs to shoot 57 percent, and even though the Hawks were lighting it up early, cooled down significantly as Portland's defense was much better.
Still, Portland shooting 5 of 23 in the fourth quarter of this one sealed a deal that started with that nine-point deficit early.
The loss ruined a fantastic night for J.J. Hickson. I'll say it again, but you simply cannot ask more of Hickson than what he's he's given the Blazers this season. All heart and scrap, and right now the heartbeat of this team. Against the Hawks he had 19 points and a whopping 18 rebounds. Rebounding, which we thought would be a huge issue before the season, wasn't for Portland for the second-straight game. They outrebounded the Spurs, and lost. They outrebounded Atlanta, and lost.
Bench points was lopsided once again, but that's just the way it's going to be on most nights. I did think the bench was much more effective in this game, despite that fact that they didn't provide points. Meyers Leonard was active in his 15 minutes. Joel Freeland, despite going 0-5 from the field (I swear to you he's going to eventually start showing he's an effective outside threat), played much better defensively. And, Ronnie Price stuck his nose into traffic and turned in a respectable effort.
We've said lately that the offense isn't the issue for Portland, it's the defense. In this game, the opposite was true. The defense improved, but the offense wasn't there. The Blazers shot just 36 percent as a team.
But, it was the start of the game that spelled their doom against the Hawks.
The Trail Blazers will again look to end this skid when they take on the Kings in Sacramento on Tuesday night.
See you then.