Trail Mix: Hawks 115, Blazers 107
In addition to the game, the Blazers also lost center Joel Freeland to a shoulder injury for two weeks.
After the game, many of the box score indicators looked good for Portland. They outscored the Hawks by 21 points at the 3-point line and held the league’s leaders in assist-rate to just 17 assists on their 43 field goals.
But the Hawks earned this win by forcing the Blazers to make mistakes. The Blazers gave props to their opponents who took the Blazers out of their game and forced them to play the game the Hawks wanted to play Saturday. This doesn’t happen to the Blazers often and only Memphis has really handled the Blazers in this fashion.
Nicolas Batum had a solid outing scoring the ball, which has been rarely seen this season. They made 13 3’s and had more assists than the Hawks. But the Hawks did just about everything else better.
The Hawks shot 19 more free-throws than the Blazers and took a measly 17 3-pointers.
Portland made a last ditch effort in the final few minutes and made it look like a comeback was in play before Jeff Teague floated the Hawks to victory with some key buckets in the final 90 seconds.
- It would be unfair to consider this game Portland’s worst defensive performance given the circumstances and their opponent but it was pretty darn close. The Hawks are 6th in the NBA 3-point rate and are never afraid to jack up some shots. But the Hawks clearly saw a weakness they could exploit. As I noted in my game story, the Hawks shot a ridiculous 43 times inside the restricted area which would be by far the best mark in the league. The Hawks were in the bottom-10 in the league in shots inside the restricted area coming into the game. It was clear that this was their strategy and they rarely deviated from it.
- This prompted questions of Terry Stotts and his team’s protection of the paint, which has been much improved. “I’ve been concerned about points in the paint defensively all season,” he said “I’m not as concerned by our points in the paint. But defensively, that is a concern. The ball was getting to the rim too much. I think the perimeter guys can guard the ball a little bit better, I think we can do a better job of helping and certainly Robin not being here impacts that as well. There’s multiple reasons, but we’ve been giving up too many points in the paint. For tonight, they started off in the first quarter and they had 22 and only two of them were fast break so that means they were getting a lot of them in the half court, whether it was offensive rebounding or penetration or post ups. You can’t consistently give up that much in the paint.”
- Which brings us to this:
- Cut to Terry Stotts looking at the numbers as “hello opponent’s shots at the rim my old friend...” plays in his head. The Blazers have been at the bottom of the league for the last two seasons at allowing shots at the basket. According to Basketball-Reference, the Blazers have the best defensive eFG% (which factors in 3’s) in the league. They’ve also improved their defensive rebounding slightly. Stotts knows this better than anyone and you can see why it led to such a lengthy response. The Blazers have climbed to the top of the defensive rankings and they’ve defended the rim well once opponents get there. But they did well in that respect last year too. Tonight they got exploited in almost every facet of their defense. Pick and rolls, losing shooters (KYLE FREAKING KORVER) on second-chances, post-ups, isos, everything it seemed was going for the Hawks. The Hawks executed their game-plan well but it will be interesting to see how or if other top teams look to bash the Blazers inside. Turnovers were part of the problem but Stotts’ concern is rightly with a long-term issue that has haunted the Blazers during his tenure as coach. We touched on this issue in the preseason at length.
- LaMarcus Aldridge felt that a lack of intensity on the defensive end was at fault for their struggles. “We got confident early and then they turned it up,” he said. “Then I thought we didn’t match their intensity defensively. They competed on both ends of the floor. They definitely made things tough for us so got to be better at you know dealing with teams that deny us and try to take us out of our rhythm.”
“We’ve been a top team defensively all season,” Lillard said. “What we’ve been doing has been working. We got to do a better job on keeping the ball on one side of the ball as guards. Our bigs have done a good job of protecting the rim all season long. We’ve been short with our bigs but I think we’ve done a good job defensively.”
- The Blazers are usually very good at taking care of the ball, which was what made the evening so surprising. But the most surprising thing I took away was who they came from. LaMarcus Aldridge having four was probably the biggest surprise. He has the lowest turnover percentage on the team by a wide margin. It was just that kind of night.
- I wondered if the time off perhaps had messed with the Blazers rhythm. But Lillard quickly put that theory to rest. “No,” he answered when asked if the time-off had thrown them off. “We had a good practice yesterday. It was a lot of energy, we practiced hard, we played, so I mean I don’t think that had a lot to do with it. I think the rest was great for us, I’ve had a lot of energy, I felt good moving around tonight. LA felt good too it looked like. Wes, Nico, T-Rob. We looked like we weren’t winded because we haven’t been playing or anything like that. They just beat us. They played a better game.”
- The Hawks play was a surprise to some. The Blazers were 15-1 against the Eastern Conference coming into the game. But the Hawks clearly aren’t like the rest in the East. “We didn’t come in here thanking that just because they are an Eastern Conference team they can’t beat us. They beat Houston at Houston. They beat Dallas at Dallas. The Clippers. They a legitimate team and it’s not crazy that they came here and beat us.”
- It’s kind of funny to see the Blazers acknowledging the Hawks as legitimate for a team that fought all year last season to be taken seriously. But Lillard is right, the Hawks are pretty darn good. They have a great starting five and they rely heavily on their bench Thabo Sefolosha and Pero Antic who both had very good games. The Hawks bench players outplayed Portland’s. Stotts played 11 players tonight, went with CJ McCollum late in the fourth quarter and all sorts of other weirdness. The Hawks played only nine guys and their bench outperformed the Blazers tonight. Dorell Wright three 3-pointers but was far from flawless. Steve Blake played 22 minutes but dished out fewer assists than he had turnovers Saturday. Chris Kaman was 1-4 from the field but had three assists and seven rebounds. Kaman’s scoring has been valuable to Portland’s bench and his three turnovers got in the way.