It can be super deflating for a defense to give up a basket on the final play of a quarter, especially when the defensive team is already trailing in the game. Even if you'd been on a mini-run or gotten a bucket on your own last trip, conceding just before the final horn puts a little extra mustard on the period-ending body blow, dampening the momentum you might've built up and giving you something to stew on as you look up at the scoreboard between quarters. It doesn't quite turn a mole-hill deficit into an Everest climb, but it does make the ascent feel just that much more daunting.
The Portland Trail Blazers delivered three such gut-punches to the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday night. Making matters even worse for the reeling Hawks, all three shots were 3-pointers, with reserve guard Mo Williams doing the honors at the end of the first quarter, sharpshooting two-guard Wesley Matthews capping off the first half, and All-Star point guard Damian Lillard dropping the hammer to close out the third:
Williams' straight-on pull-up 3 — created by a neat little double-screen by center Robin Lopez that picked off rookies Dennis Schröder and Mike Muscala — extended a three-point lead to six after 12 minutes. Matthews' triple — created by a pump-fake that fooled Shelvin Mack just enough to create some room to dribble right and hoist, but was still a tough shot — put a proper exclamation point on a second quarter that saw Portland outscore Atlanta 31-21 to take a 16-point lead into intermission. Lillard's three was the most galling of all — a pull-up 28-footer where he had enough room to rise and fire thanks to a late Jeff Teague closeout, and that splashed through with one-tenth of a second remaining to push the Blazers' lead to 14 at 78-64.
Buzzer-beating 3-pointers in three consecutive quarters seems like the kind of thing that you don't see very often. That's because you don't, according to the Elias Sports Bureau:
Over the last 16 seasons (1998-99 to date), the only other NBA game in which one team made buzzer-beating three-point field goals to cap three different periods also involved the Trail Blazers at Phillips Arena. That game was on Nov. 16, 2009, when Portland's Rudy Fernandez made field goals from beyond the arc as time expired in the first and fourth quarters (to tie the game), before he hit a three-pointer as the horn sounded at the end of the overtime period in a 95-92 loss to the Hawks.
The Blazers and Hawks, connected forever in this dance of death, time flat circle, etc., etc., etc. Portland won this time around, though, earning a 100-85 win to snap a three-game losing streak and increase their lead for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference over the Golden State Warriors to a full game. LaMarcus Aldridge was a beast in his return from a seven-game absence due to a lower back contusion, scoring 25 points and grabbing 16 rebounds in 32 minutes of work against an overmatched Hawks front-line missing both long-injured star center Al Horford and floor-spacing fill-in big Pero Antic. Lillard added 21 points, six rebounds and four assists, while Williams chipped in eight points and 11 dimes in 24 minutes off the pine for Terry Stotts' Blazers, who improved to 46-27 with the win.
Teague led Atlanta with 22 points on 10 for 18 shooting, but All-Star forward Paul Millsap had an off night from the floor (10 points on 3 for 15 shooting) for the Hawks, whose offense continued to struggle without injured sharpshooter Kyle Korver (who missed his fifth straight game due to back spasms) and who have now dropped five in a row to fall to 31-40. Their lead over the New York Knicks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference has dwindled to just 1 1/2 games. The two teams split their season series at two games apiece, but Atlanta (21-20 against Eastern opponents) holds the in-conference winning percentage over New York (21-24). The Knicks have 11 games remaining, while the Hawks have 12.
- - - - - - -