It’s really all about the defense. All the time. Every time.
On some nights, the Trail Blazers’ offense can simply outscore the defensive mistakes – for instance, Sunday night in Boston, when the Celtics made 20 of 39 three-point shots against Portland, which still won by 10 points, thanks to its high-powered offense.
But Monday in Atlanta, the Hawks hit 20 of 41 from three, but the Blazers couldn’t keep up and lost 123-114, ending a four-game Trail Blazer road win streak.
Right now, Portland is playing much the same way it did in the Orlando bubble last summer, relentlessly torrid at the offensive end and outscoring just about all its opponents.
And really, any substantial improvement on defense is mostly in short bursts and often due to random poor shooting by opponents. And the better the opposition, the more difficult it is to win without at least passable defense.
The Blazers still sit 29th in defensive rating in the NBA, just where they have been virtually all season.
Atlanta made 52.4 percent of its shots Monday, the Blazers had rotation problems and just couldn’t cover. It’s fair to point out this was the second of back-to-back games and the fifth straight game on the road. Fatigue is real.
But it’s also not an uncommon defensive performance for Portland.
Just one small example came at the very end of the first quarter, with Damian Lillard at the foul line with 6.4 seconds left. He missed his free throw and the Hawks used a quick outlet pass to halfcourt and then Solomon Hill sprinted straight down the court past Carmelo Anthony to take a pass from Kevin Huerter for a wide-open dunk to give the Hawks a one-point lead at the end of the period.
Basically, a free basket.
It was the kind of simple play that would cause a high school coach to throw his clipboard down in disgust.
In the end, the Blazers were buried by three-pointers from Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari, two known sharpshooters, who combined to go 14-24 from behind the arc.
“Well, you’ve got to give him credit,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “Bogdanovic was hot in the first half and Gallinari was hot in the second half. And those two guys made the difference from the three-point line.
“We tried to be aggressive with Young, obviously, when you commit two guys to the ball, it's going to open up some opportunities. To be honest, I thought some of their threes were decently contested, so you’ve got to give them credit for shooting the ball really well.
“But you know, it comes and goes. Like Bogdanovic goes seven for nine in the first half and goes oh-for-five in the second half. Gallinari didn't do much the first half. He goes, what, six for seven in the second half? The three-point line can be a little streaky. You kind of have to play the odds, sometimes.”
For sure. But when you give up 50 percent shooting from three-point range – or anything close to that – the odds say you’re going to need some big-time offense to win the game.
And Monday, it wasn’t quite there.