Blazers Finish 2017 With Loss To Hawks In Atlanta

by Casey Holdahl
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ATLANTA -- The Portland Trail Blazers fell to 18-17 overall and 10-7 on the road this season with a 104-89 loss to the Atlanta Hawks Saturday night at Phillips Arena. The loss breaks a six-game road winning streak versus Eastern Conference teams.

“We weren’t able to sustain what we had going," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. "In the first half, I thought we had really good stretches, and didn’t finish the half very well. Then in the third quarter we got a nice lead, and weren’t able to sustain that as well. Atlanta played hard and created some turnovers. We were a little loose with the ball. They made their runs. They started shooting the ball well. Our offense really struggled in the second half."

Though they were playing their fourth consecutive game without Damian Lillard (right hamstring strain), the Trail Blazers looked as though they were good enough to defeat a Hawks team that had just nine wins in 35 tries. Portland turned the ball over 10 times in the first half for eight Hawks points, but they also shot 49 percent from the field and 6-of-13 from three, which allowed the road team to take a 52-46 lead into the intermission.

But while Portland’s turnover issues would continue in the second half, their three-point accuracy would not. The Trail Blazers made just one of twelve three-point attempts in the second half while turning the ball over 10 more times, which would be more than enough mistakes to give the Hawks an opportunity to win their third straight game on their home court.

"We gave them a lot of second-chance points, offensive rebounds, my turnovers," said Shabazz Napier. "It was just a handful of things that we should have corrected going into the second half."

For a brief moment, Portland looked like they might even have the opportunity to pull away early in the second half after an Al-Farouq Aminu three-pointer gave the Trail Blazers their largest lead of the night at 57-46 just after the 11 minute mark of the third quarter. But that would be the only three Portland would make in the second half, which would not bode well for a team playing without their top scorer.

Atlanta would eventually outscore Portland 26-17 in the third quarter and 58-37 in the second half, thanks in large part to the Hawks making seven three-pointers while holding the Blazers to 15-of-42 shooting from the field in the third and fourth quarters.

"I don’t think we got stops," said CJ McCollum of the differences between the first half and the second. "I think we got stops in the first half, did a pretty decent job of closing out on shooters. I think they got 14 or 15 threes in the first half but the second half, we didn’t do a good job of getting stops. They were out in transition running, they hit a lot of threes, they got penetration. I think that was the difference in the game. We weren’t able to get out and run taking the ball out the net throughout the majority of the second half."

TOP SCORERS

The Trail Blazers were led by Shabazz Napier, who went 8–of15 from the field for 21 points to go with eight rebounds, six assists, two blocks and a steal in 36 minutes. The 6-1 guard in his fourth season out of UConn has now scored at least 20 points in his last three games and has more total points 35 games into the season than he has scored in any of his three previous seasons.

CJ McCollum went 8-of-21 from the field and 1-of-4 from three for 18 points go to with four rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block in 35 minutes.

Al-Farouq Aminu was the only other Trial Blazer to get into double figures with 10 points while also added five rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block in 31 minutes.

The Hawks had six players score in double figures led by Dennis Schroder, who went 9-of-17 from the field for 22 points to go with eight assists in 33 minutes. Marco Belinelli went for 14 points on 50 percent shooting while both Ersan Ilyasova and Tyler Cavanaugh added 13 points.

LISTEN UP

LILLARD STILL OUT

At this point, there’s no points in trying to predict when Trail Blazers starting point guard Damian Lillard will return to the court after suffering a right hamstring strain in Portland’s 93-91 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on December 20.

Initially, Lillard sounded optimistic, and almost emphatic, that the injury wouldn’t keep him sidelined for long. Missing a back-to-back versus the Nuggets and Lakers was expected, but with four days off between the Laker game and the game versus the 76ers December 28 at the Moda Center, the thought was that the extended layoff would give the 6-3 guard out of Weber State plenty of time to recuperate.

But hamstring injuries tend to be tricky, and Lillard’s is proving to be no exception. He went through a workout after the team arrived in Atlanta Friday night and tested out the injury prior to Saturday’s game, and at no point did it seem like he was bothered by the injury. But after his pregame workout, the decision was made, and rather quickly, that he would sit out once again, and thus, miss his fourth consecutive game.

The Blazers now have a day off before playing the Bulls and Cavaliers in a back-to-back that starts New Year’s Day in Chicago. Will Lillard be able to play in either game? If so, would be play in a back-to-back coming off a hamstring injury? Would it make sense for him to play in one game, but not the other? At this point, no one has the answers to those questions.

THEY SAID IT

"I just try to be aggressive. Obviously it's hard to make up 26 (points), six (assists) and six (rebounds). It's hard to make up that production out there, we have to do it collectively. We all have to step up and become better basketball players, more efficient basketball players and just try to play hard." -- CJ McCollum on the pressure of playing without Damian Lillard in the lineup

NEXT UP

The Trail Blazers now have New Year’s Eve off before playing the Chicago Bulls Monday night on the first day of 2018. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 p.m.