PORTLAND — Hours before tipoff Monday night inside the Rose Garden, the Trail Blazers announced that their record-setting home sellout streak had come to an end.
The conclusion of something that was such a source of pride for the organization, and that predated all but one player on the current roster, would only be the start to the strangeness of the Blazers and Atlanta Hawks game.
J.J. Hickson — the undersized center who has no plays called on his behalf — attempted and made more shots than longest-active Blazer LaMarcus Aldridge. Then defying basketball logic, the team played hot potato on offense and yet still had a slim fourth-quarter lead and the swell of a still-passionate home crowd on their side.
But this was not to be the Blazers’ night.
The Hawks scored the final three field goals and took the 95-87 win. Portland dropped its fourth straight, squandering a career night for Hickson who energized an otherwise flat-lined Blazer offense for 19 points and 18 rebounds.
“I just took it upon myself to be that energy guy,” Hickson said. “Just do what a traditional center is supposed to do.”
Hickson got his numbers through his hard work under the glass, thriving in a clunky game in which the Blazers (2-5) committed 20 turnovers and made just 36.1 percent of their shots. Fluid, free-flowing basketball this was not.
Through most of his time on the floor, Aldridge struggled to score (just 4 of 13 for 14 points) but broke through with 2:50 remaining in the game. Aldridge backed down Al Horford, spun to his right and while fading away, banked in the baseline jumper. Aldridge got fouled and after the three-point play, Blazers led 87-85 until the Hawks responded with a three straight silencing buckets.
Horford scored on a wide-open dunk then a one-dribble, post-up hook shot over Hickson, and point guard Jeff Teague got freed from Damian Lillard with a high screen and skipped down the lane for the layup.
The procession to the exits began as the Hawks added the final daggers at the free-throw line. The announced attendance of 19,095 was far short of capacity and thus snapped the 195-game consecutive sellout streak.
“It’s a disappointing loss,” coach Terry Stotts said, “but we’ll learn from it and get better and move on and get one tomorrow night.”
Stotts made the same “disappointing loss” remarks after the Blazers dropped a close one to the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday. They are beginning to pile up, these losses. And although the Blazers began this season with tempered expectations, Aldridge spoke of the seriousness in ending the disappointment.
“There’s been a sense of urgency to win games,” Aldridge said. “We’re not trying to come here and just be happy with being close. We want to win games. We’re trying to win every game, and we’ll go to Sacramento and try to get a win.”