Atlanta swoop up sixth straight victory over Blazers

Things can get very difficult and frustrating when a player hits an unfortunate shooting funk, that sweet jump shot that can be automatic a few games ago, just won’t fall. Hook shots rim out, fadaway shots hit the back of the rim, an open three turns into an air ball. It hurts even more when half the team is plagued with the same sickness, no one can really seem to find their reliable shot, and it’s a snag that Portland continues to deal with. The Blazers came into Atlanta in hopes of evening their road-trip, Jamal Crawford faced his former team with hopes that Portland would snap a five-game losing streak to the Hawks, a team that always hit the right shots at the right time. The shooting woes continued while Crawford, Gerald Wallace and LaMarcus Aldridge tried their hardest to keep them above water. Losing Nic Batum to a serious eye injury didn’t help the cause, Portland fall fast down to as many as nine points and crawl their way back to the lead thanks to an 13-0 run in the fourth. The Hawks give the Blazers plenty of times to take the game away due to turnovers, but missed opportunities get Portland as close as three before Atlanta puts the game away for good, winning 92-89 and beat the Blazers for the sixth straight time, and handing Portland their third loss on this disheartening road-trip.

Both clubs were awful from the moment of tip-off, each had good quality looks at the rim but failed to convert as Portland start the game shooting 1-7 and not hitting easy high quality shots at the rim. The energy on defense was solid in the beginning, the Hawks were too struggling but lead as many as four points, most attempts just clanking off the front of the rim. The Blazers were a combined 2-13 at the halfway point which as been the new norm, it wasn’t until Jamal Crawford walked onto the court and received a warm reception from his former fans, he connects his first two attempts and looks energized, giving Portland the 15-14 lead and improve the Blazers to just 7-21 from the floor. Atlanta get warmer as time goes on as Joe Johnson connects for back-to-back threes to propel the Hawks to a 21-17 first quarter lead.

It would repeat throughout as each quarter would start slow but progress offensively, mainly it was Atlanta that were having the most luck, they outscored Portland 30-25 in the second quarter, even Kurt Thomas got into the scoring action, hitting his 15-foot sweet spot to cash in six quick points to keep Portland behind by five. It wouldn’t help as the Hawks build their lead to as big as nine by halftime thanks to big plays courtesy of Johnson and big man Josh Smith who went toe to toe with Aldridge all night long.

The Hawks start the third hitting a horrendous 17% from the floor and leave the door wide open for the Blazers to make a run, and they do, Portland come out of the visitor locker room to shoot 50% and close the gap down to three. The defense was spot on as well, Thomas and Craig “Rhino” Smith disrupting passes and denying easy looks under the rim, Gerald Wallace gets back on the fast break to deny Jeff Teague with an open lay up and takes the ball through the Hawk defense to lay it in on the other side.It wasn’t long till the Hawks found their footing and create eight straight points to take a 69-62 lead after it was 62-61 moments ago. The Blazers would end up hitting 1-7 from the floor and fell behind 75-62 going into the fourth, all thanks to a monstrous 17-0 run that seemed to put the Blazers down for good.

Crawford and Wallace take charge early in the fourth, hitting their shots and running the floor, Crawford looking more and more confident as time goes on. They help bring the lead down to two as Atlanta commit consecutive turnovers and now all of a sudden it’s a 13-0 Blazer run to jumpstart the fourth quarter, holding the Hawks to nothing until the 6:30 mark. Crawford again comes to the rescue and drills a deep three at the top of the key to take the 78-77 lead since the first quarter, but as Blazer fans watched time and time again, the lead would evaporate soon as more missed looks and a lob dunk to Teague and another three by Joe Johnson keep Portland from making anymore advancements, taking the 92-89 win in front of a quiet home crowd.

It has yet to be determined if this game would be the one that gets Crawford out of his funk, feeding off his former home crowd, he leads Portland with 22 Pts, 3 Reb, 5 Ast, a steal and a block to go along with 2-4 threes, looking comfortable as time wore on. LaMarcus Aldridge plugged along 43 minutes and had to deal with Josh Smith down his throat, scoring 20 Pts, 11 Reb, 4 Ast, 2 Stl and had a solid night. The only other starter with double figures with Wesley Matthews with just 10 Pts, 3 Reb, 2 Ast but had the sticky hands, picking pockets 5 times for the steal. Craig Smith and Kurt Thomas each had something to contribute, Smith with 9 Pts, Thomas with 8 along with 12 rebounds between them.

Unfortunately, Nic Batum suffered a nasty poke to the eye during the second quarter by Tracy McGrady swiping his face across Batum’s. Batum headed into the locker room and never returned, having X-rays done that turned negative and has been listed as “day-to-day”.

Another off-night in the shooting department, hitting just 38% for the night on 92 attempts compared to Atlanta’s 46% on 72 attempts. Hitting 5-19 from three doesn’t help your cause either, and 14-20 is not acceptable when Portland was number one in the league awhile ago. They are out-rebounded for the eighth straight game 47-41, are held to 10 fast break points but turn the ball over just 9 times and get 10 steals.

Joe Johnson leads the Hawks with a healthy 24 Pts, 7 Reb, 5 Ast and deadly 4-7 from three which hurt the most. His partner Josh Smith hit 17 Pts and 11 Reb, Jeff Teague with 11 Pts and 5 Ast. Tracy McGrady comes off the bench for 8 Pts and backup center Zaza Pachulia grabbed 11 Reb in place of the injured Al Hortford.

It’s a long ride to the chilly, raw winter up in Toronto as Portland takes the day to ready themselves to face a young Raptors team that has some quality wins this season. At best, the Blazers can manage a .500 on this road trip before wrapping things up in Detroit.

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