This was beginning to look a lot like some Trail Blazer losses from last season. And this season, too. The defense, a point of emphasis, was mostly absent in the first half.
Yes, the Blazers ended up pulling out a 112-106 win over the Atlanta Hawks Saturday night in Moda Center. But it was far from easy and it didn’t come without cost.
Portland fell behind by 16 in the first half to a team that had lost five of its previous six games, was playing the second of a back-to-back and was doing so with even more injured players on the sidelines than the Trail Blazers.
Portland, already freshly without Jusuf Nurkic, lost CJ McCollum to a sprained foot in the first half, came back behind Damian Lillard -- who else? -- and his 36 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
The Hawks, without Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kris Dunn and Cam Reddish to illness and injury, were fully in the game until 15.5 seconds remained and Lillard drew a charging foul from Trae Young with Atlanta trailing by just 2.
Lillard, who played a hard 42:44, pointed to his team’s defense, which allowed 66 points in the first half but just 40 in the second, as the critical factor in the game.
And as his custom, Lillard kept it real afterward. He laid it all out: This team cannot afford too many halves like that first one. And needs more halves like the second one,
“I think we should be proud of ourselves for the effort that we had in the second half, Lillard said. “And we know the first half wasn't good enough. You know this was a game that we had to have.
“We came out (in the second half) and we had a lot more pride in the defensive end. I thought our communication was much better. Our physical presence, much better.
“We just had a lot more urgency about us. And I think we've shown flashes of that over the course of these first 13 games. It's just a matter of us being able to sustain that level. Be consistent at doing it.
“So I think we are happy that we were able to put a half like that together, but we’ve got to continue to work at becoming a team that, whether we are making or missing shots, can be that type of team consistently. Because it's what we need.
“You know we're not that type of team that can turn it on and turn it off and think that we’re gonna come out here and outscore every team.
“So that type of effort and energy, and you know how we had DJ flying in there crashing the glass, Melo getting points in the paint, Enes blocking shots -- you know he blocked five shots tonight, GT being physical and aggressive into the ball.”
That’s what’s needed to keep this season on track. The offense is one of the best in the league. But even a great offense has its good nights and bad. Defense will cover for those bad nights and make the good nights easier.
And Lilllard has been around long enough now to know that.
“We had that type of urgency in the entire second half and we only gave up 40 points,” he said. “Obviously we're not gonna be able to do that every half. But if we just bring that type of focus and energy and communicating, it will be a great result for us."