Blazer fans? Psssssh...what a bunch of sellouts.
UNTIL TONIGHT. For the first time in 195 games, Portland will play a regular-season home game in front of empty seats (that technically haven't been paid for). It's the first non-sellout since December 2007 (heady times, man) and it also happens to mark the first day on the job for new Blazers President and CEO Chris McGowan.
"We're eternally grateful to our fans for their loyalty during the sellout streak, and look forward to their continued support throughout the season," McGowan said in a press release. "With a new coach, new players and a high-energy brand of NBA basketball, we're building something special in Portland and encourage all fans to get on board for an exciting ride."
OK, McGowan—you got me! I won't pass up a ride! Let alone an exciting one! So click past the jump and follow along (since you're obviously not here, dick) as I document the beginning of a whole new streak!
So where the hell is everybody, anyway?
The economy hasn't helped (it's a well-known fact President Obama hates basketball and therefore America), but neither has Portland's prospects this season. Embarking on a sizable rebuilding campaign (Rise with us! Again!), the Blazers have so far struggled to a 2-4 record behind the worst defense in the West. There is young talent here, without a doubt, but are they ready for a run at the postseason? Fans can sense it's not likely.
Portland enters having lost three straight against legit Western conference playoff contenders. Atlanta? They're looking to avoid a three-game skid of their own
(perhaps) without the services of Josh Smith and Louis Williams, who fell ill earlier today. The Blazers, who blew a 14-point lead on Saturday against the Spurs, talked afterward about staying within their gameplan and learning to finish.
That gameplan is surely to include its share of running, especially against a deeper, physical Atlanta squad still feeling its way through life without 6x All-Star Joe Johnson.
Atlanta (2-3)—Jeff Teague, DeShawn Stevenson, Al Horford, Josh Smith, Kyle Korver.
Portland (2-4)—Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, JJ Hickson, Wesley Matthews, Damian Lillard
9:44—Slow offensive start for both sides. Unless you consider Kyle Korver his own side. Because he has five points. Hawks 6, Blazers 0.
8:56—Fans who are here emitted a nervous, cheering-like sound as Portland came up empty on its first five possessions of the night. Finally, Aldridge leans in and throws in a jump hook for Portland's first bucket. Hawks 9, Blazers 2(!).
6:47—Stevenson threw up what I'll now officially dub "a three-monocle" after draining one in the right corner. Hickson has scored two straight buckets and its 18-7 Hawx. During the timeout, the crowd honors Vets on this Veterans Day, including Marine Bailey Leonard, big brother of Blazer Meyers Leonard, who's in the house watching Lil' bro in the NBA for the first time. More on that (including likely tears) here.
4:37—Leonard checks in, but not before Lillard slashes to the hoop and scoops in a reverse layup. Guys! Have you heard of this Lillard kid? He looks pretty good.
4:03—Matthews hits a three of his own, and now he's throwing up "the three-monocle™!" I believe we may have some sign-language trash talking ... on our hands! I'll stop.
1:01—Aldridge knocks down his first (glorified?) mid-range jumper of the night, but the Blazers haven't been able to stitch together successful possessions. Meanwhile, Atlanta is shooting 61% from the field and leading 28-19.
:00—Batum with a quick catch-and-shoot 3-pointer pulls Portland within six, and after Atlanta mis-fires on its next possession, the Blazers battle on the boards. Atlanta finds the handle and gets the quarter's last possession, but Williams' step-back attempt with Leonard in his grill is off the mark. After one quarter, it's Hawks 28, Blazers 22.
10:12—Blazers seem to be starting this quarter like the last. To add insult to injury, Atlanta's Anthony Morrow makes a steal, scores five points in 30 seconds, then fouls a guy. "If only you were here to see it, Blazers fans," thinks Anthony Morrow. Hawks 34, Blazers 24.
9:13—Atlanta scores its 11th straight after Anthony Tolliver zooms (and I use this term relatively) Portland's Joel Freeland and finishes an alley-oop layin. Hawks are shooting 60%, which, needless to say, is slightly above their average.
7:49—Blazers wake up to the fact that Anthony Tolliver and the Atlanta bench is balling all over them and pull within 11 on a Matthews drive and scoop. Hawks coach Larry Drew panics and calls a timeout. Hawks 41, Blazers 30.
6:37—Hickson earns some hustle points (along with actual points!) by staying with a rebound and tapping one back to pull the Blazers to within single digits. He has nine points and six boards and the fans are eating it up. On the other end, Josh Smith shows he's feeling just fine, thanks, and tomahawk-jams it home. Hawks 43, Blazers 32.
3:38—Hawks are quick to run after an Aldridge miss and Korver is alone in the left corner to hit Atlanta's sixth 3-pointer of the night. Portland, meanwhile, has 10 turnovers. Hawks lead 54-40.
2:01—Lillard drops one from the top of the key, but on the other end, the Blazers let Teague run right through the lane for an uncontested layup. This confirms two early themes of this 2012-13 season: Lillard can damn-near do it all, and the Blazers aren't interested in playing defense.
0:00—Blazers pull within single digits on a pair of Matthews free throws. They look to hold for the final possession, but a Lillard 3-point attempt goes wide. Matthews with a hustle rebound and gets it a wide-open Batum on the left wing, but his 3 also misses. Portland shooting 39% from the field to Atlanta's 51% and the Hawks lead 56-47. Averaging 92 points per game heading into tonight, ATL is well on its way to claiming Chalupas of their own.
Lillard leads Portland with 10 points, followed by nine apiece for Aldridge and Matthews. The Hawks have two players in double-figures: Smith with 12 and Korver with 11.
11:10—Hickson air-balls his first free throw attempt, then nails the second. A somewhat ugly way to earn a double-double, but he has 10 points and 10 boards nonetheless.
9:50—Lillard called for a carry-over (yes, they still technically call those) and it's the 13th turnover for the Blazers tonight. That matches their season high and we have a long way to go. Hawks 60, Blazers 48.
7:52—Batum drains a 3 from the right wing and the PA announcer says something in French. Atlanta turns it over and on the other end, Hickson spins and pops to pull the Blazers within seven, 64-57. Hickson now with 14 and 12, and that whole "Start Leonard" campaign loses a bit of steam. Or does it? With these newfound post moves, Hickson might start demanding the sort of defensive respect required to anchor a second unit and take a bit of pressure off a rather green Blazer bench.
5:26—Smith picks up his fourth foul. On the ensuing possession, Aldridge picks up Hickson in the lane, and JJ j-j-jams it home with a two-handed dunk. Blazers back within seven, and Aldridge has seven assists for the second straight game.
3:12—Blazers are now within five after Batum tips home a Leonard miss. On the other end, Teague finds some actual defense on his way to the hoop for perhaps the first time tonight and draws a foul. He misses his first free throw of the season (then makes the second), and the Hawks lead 69-63.
2:13—Portland showing some hustle (IDEA! They should put a BOARD somewhere in the arena to MEASURE HUSTLE!) and Atlanta's field goal percentage has returned to earth. The Blazers could still stand to block out a bit more, however. Case in point: Horford follows an Atlanta miss and dunks it home untouched to give the Hawx a 71-65 lead. Timeout, Portland.
2:07—And Aldridge picks up his fourth foul. Freeland checks in. Aldridge has 16 points and 13 rebounds. Freeland has no points, one rebound and what appears to be the beginnings of a beard.
0:00—Lillard with a nice drive and one-handed runner, but Williams answers back with a step-back jumper over the rookie. Hawks lead 75-67. Through three quarters, Portland has 18 turnovers. That won't win you many ballgames, kids.
9:56—Blazers now shooting below 40%. If they're to get back in this one, the time is probably now. Hawks up 77-67.
9:08—Matthews does what he does best: Barrels to the rim before the defense can get set, throws up an off-balance shot and draws a foul. He hits both free throws, and the Blazers pull within seven, 78-71.
8:09—Matthews looks like he might be the one to key any comeback effort. After he picks Williams' pocket and knocks it to Ronnie Price, he gets it back and jams it home to pull Portland within five. Atlanta can't convert on their next possession, but Portland's next trip down the floor ends with a Hickson hook that's well short. Not his best moment in what could've been a big one in this game. Hawks take a timeout anyway, up 78-73.
7:24—Matthews hits a pair of free throws and he's scored 10 of Portland's last 12 points. Blazers are within one at 78-77.
6:50—After an Atlanta turnover, Blazers work it Aldridge for a mid-range J. He misses it and nobody gets back on defense. Result? A Smith dunk and a three-point Hawx lead.
6:05—Hickson ties it up with an awkwardly unstable move in the post (I think he pump-faked himself) +1. He hits the free throw, and after a 13-2 Blazer run, we're tied at 80.
5:40—Aldridge is fouled by Smith (his fifth) and Portland will have free throws for its first lead of the night after a timeout. In the meantime, T-SHIRT CANNONS! Aldridge hits both and the Blazers lead 82-80. First lead of the night for the home team.
4:05—Big collision in the key. Aldridge hustles for a rebound and pivots twice to set something up, and Stevenson is pushed into him by Batum. It undercuts Aldridge and for a moment, everyone holds their breath. But LA gets back on his feet and the fans rain boos on the court after the replay. Not sure why—it clearly showed Batum with a moving screen, pushing Stevenson right into the back of Aldridge.
2:50—Aldridge with a spin move on Horford and pretty turnaround jumper that banks off glass and in to give Portland the lead. He
flops falls to draw the foul and will have free throws right after THE STUNT TEAM PUMPS THIS PLACE UUUUUUUUUP! Aldridge converts the free throw, and the Blazers lead 87-85.
1:45—Smith draws a big charging foul on Aldridge after two straight buckets for the Hawks. They lead 89-87 and the Blazers have 20 turnovers.
0:42—Lillard passes on an open 3, steps in and misses long-range 2. On the other end, Teague drives to the hole and Matthews is called for goaltending. Wes clearly caught Teague's shot on its way down, and it'll be 91-87 Hawks. Blazers ball, and they need a bucket here to have any chance.
0:36—Aldridge spins to the hoop and draws a foul. He misses them both and that may very well do it. Hawks lead 91-87 and the fans begin heading to the exits.
0:25—Korver does something besides hitting a 3, namely hitting a pair of free throws. Hawks lead 93-87 and hey! They never announced tonight's paid attendance! (#toosoon)
0:17—Lillard drives but his shot is hard off the rim. The dazzling rookie is 5 of 18 from the field tonight—not his best performance thus far. But he's in good company: The Blazers are shooting 36% tonight, which isn't gonna do it.
FINAL: Hawks win, 95-87. Blazers took a two-point lead with 2:50 left, and then they just. stopped. scoring. Atlanta rolls out of the Rose Garden with a 10-point run to end this one, and Portland has lost four straight.
Hickson and Batum have 19 each to lead Portland, which gets five players in double figures (Matthews has 17, Aldridge has 14 and Lillard adds 12). For Atlanta, Josh Smith fights through illness for a 19-point, 11-rebound night, while Horton goes for 15 and 10. Korver (16), Teague (13) and Williams (11) round out the Hawks' scoring.
Where does Portland go from here? Sacramento, unfortunately. Not that the Kings are any good (they're 2-5), but the phrase "Hurry, we gotta get to Sac-Town!" has never made anyone feel better after a loss. Or any other time, for that matter. The Blazers return to the Rose Garden on Friday, when they'll host Houston.