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Fending off Hawks tall order for Blazers

Big men Millsap, Horford combine for 39 in Hawks’ win

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers Writer
Published: January 20, 2016, 11:24pm

PORTLAND — The Portland Trail Blazers have one of the toughest backcourt tandems in the league, but Wednesday that attack was neutralized by the Atlanta Hawks’ unique tandem of big men.

The Hawks defeated the Blazers 104-98 behind a combined 39 points and 17 rebounds between big men Paul Millsap and Al Horford.

The Blazers came back after trailing by 13 points to take a five-point lead in the fourth quarter but couldn’t hold on as the Hawks’ versatile and balanced attack was too much to overcome.

“They’re very versatile big men,” head coach Terry Stotts said. “They hurt you inside and outside. They pass. They’re both very good in midrange, they can both put it on the floor. They’re both good passers.”

Portland’s CJ McCollum had an excellent game from the field, scoring 28 points. Damian Lillard, hampered by foul trouble, wasn’t as excellent, going 8 of 21 and making only one 3-pointer.

In addition to the play of their big men, the Hawks got a huge boost from swingman Kent Bazemore, whose 23 points included a pair of big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.

The Blazers got off to an excellent start for the second game in a row, starting the game by outscoring the Hawks 11-4.

The Hawks — with coaches, executives and a style of play cut from the San Antonio Spurs’ cloth — showed why they are one of the most respected teams in the league.

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The Hawks closed the first quarter on a 25-7 run which helped them build an 11-point lead.

Millsap and Horford were instrumental for Atlanta on both ends of the floor.

After the Blazers started the game 8 of 12, they went ice cold and made only one of their next 18 field goal attempts.

Millsap’s role in that was in basically making Meyers Leonard’s shooting ability a non-factor in the game.

The Hawks chose to put the more mobile of their two big men on the court to track Leonard when he was in the game and opportunities for Portland’s bench units were few and far between.

In addition to the extra attention paid to Lillard and McCollum, the Hawks’ coverage of Leonard was noticeable with him coming off one of his better shooting games when he had 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting.

Leonard went 0-for-5 in his first shift on the open looks he did get, and Stotts adjusted accordingly by taking him out early in the second quarter.

And in that little game within the game, it was advantage Hawks.

Leonard hit some shots in the second half and the Blazers recovered to make it a game, but Wednesday was a night when the advantages on the margins made all of the difference.

“Defensively, as a group they play good team defense but I think those two (Millsap and Horford) really anchor good team defense,” Stotts said.

But there was 2.5 quarters to play and one of the things this Blazers unit has made clear this season: they will not roll over when they might be expected to.

After Stotts took Leonard out, the Blazers cut into the 13-point Atlanta advantage and cut it to five before halftime.

Aminu did an excellent job holding his own against the stronger Millsap and McCollum caught fire, scoring 11 of his 28 points in the second quarter.

Lillard scored just four points in the first half in large part due to the traps of the Atlanta defense forcing the ball from his hands.

Things got worse for Lillard late in the third quarter when he picked up his fourth foul, which sent him to the bench with 4:52 left in the quarter.

But the Blazers’ bench did a much better job and McCollum kept the Blazers afloat by hitting tough shots.

Lillard made his first 3-pointer of the game when he completed a four-point play with 9:42 left to tie the game at 79.

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Columbian Trail Blazers Writer