Road Roll Continues With Blowout Victory Versus Hawks

by Casey Holdahl
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ATLANTA -- The Portland Trail Blazers have played a number of games this season in which they built impressive first-half leads only to end up on the losing end come the final buzzer. Luckily for the Trail Blazers and their playoff hopes, only part of that all-to-common equation came to fruition Sunday night in Atlanta.

The Trail Blazers led by as many as 23 points in the first quarter and fought off multiple rallies to come away with a wire-to-wire 113-97 victory over the Hawks at Phillips Arena.

“The understatement is the first quarter was really an outstanding quarter for us at both end,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Defensively we were locked in, getting a lot of deflections, getting out in transition. Dame (Lillard) I thought really got us off to a great start. After that the game was kind of methodical but the first quarter was pretty impressive.”

With the victory the Trail Blazers improve to 31-37 overall, 14-23 on the road and have won seven of their last nine. Portland now trails the Denver Nuggets, a team that hosts the Houston Rockets Sunday night, by 2.0 games for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

After two days off, the Trail Blazers looks more than ready to play in the first quarter of Sunday’s game in Atlanta. Portland started the game by outscoring Atlanta 17-3 in the first five minutes of play and would push their lead to 35-12 after a three-pointer from CJ McCollum with 1:42 to play in the first quarter.

The Trail Blazers would eventually take a 40-18 lead into the second quarter thanks to 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting from Damian Lillard and 76 percent field goal shooting for the team.

“It was a great first quarter,” said Noah Vonleh. “We played real aggressive, got out to a hard start, got them down real early. We said it in our pregame, we said we were going to try and come out and play strong.”

From there, holding onto the lead was the name of the game. The Hawks would outscore the Trail Blazers 55-45 between the second and third quarters and got the lead down to 11 on multiple occasions. But unlike in games past, Portland always found a timely bucket, be it by Allen Crabbe, Voneh or CJ McCollum, to keep the home team at arm’s length.

So after trailing by as many 21 in the fourth quarter before Stotts inserted his deep bench with under three minutes to play to grind out the 16-point victory.

“The thing I was most proud of is how we were able to sustain our level of focus,” said Lillard. “Usually when we come out, we shoot the ball well, we build a lead and then when the shots stop falling, things kind of fall apart. But i think tonight, even when the shots stopped falling, we sustained our level of focus on the defensive end, we stayed focused, we stayed active and we was able to depend on that until the ball started going in again. We trusted each other, extra passes, guys ran the floor, we executed, we set screens and we did all the small things over the full course of the game. Because of that we was able to hold on to the lead.

Portland was led by Lillard, who finished with 27 points, five rebounds and five assists in 32 minutes. CJ McCollum went 10-of-19 from the field for 22 points while also adding six rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal in 34 minutes.

Crabbe his almost all of his four three-pointer in transition and finished with 16 points to go with three rebounds and two steals. Vonleh continued the best run of his young career, finishing with a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds in 27 minutes.

“Just being in the right spots at the right time and just letting those guys create,” said Vonleh. “If they can’t make something for themselves they’ll find me in the short corner, in the dunker. Just playing with energy, rebounding and trying to play defense.”

Maurice Harkless and Jusuf Nurkić each added 12 points and Al-Farouq Aminu pitched in eight points and seven rebounds playing in his hometown. Evan Turner, playing in his first game since breaking the third metacarpal in his right hand on February 7, finished with two points, eight rebounds and three assists in 19 minutes.

“Felt fine, felt great, it was smooth,” said Turner of his first game in over five weeks. “That was my first time going five-on-five so it’s just picking up the flow of the stuff. Obviously I just try to get to a point where I don’t really too much worry about the brace.”

The Hawks were led by 23 points from Ersan Illyasova with Tim Hardaway Jr. finishing with 22 off the bench. Hawks All-Star forward Paul Millsap did not play due to left knee tightness.

Next up, the Trail Blazers play the second night of a back-to-back and finish up the five-game trip versus the Miami Heat, a team with on of the best records since the start of 2017, at American Airlines Arena.

“I hate to say this: we need to not be happy with what we’ve accomplished in the first four games,” said Lillard. “Our mentality needs to be greedy. We shouldn’t be saying “Ah, we won three out of the first four on this trip and if we don’t win it tomorrow then we still won three.’ We’re more than capable of going in there and getting a fourth win on this trip and using that momentum going back home. I think our mentality has to be to get greedy, go in there with the same focus we’ve had over the last few games and go win a game and not take what we’ve done so far for granted.”

Tipoff is scheduled for 3 pm.