From the jump there was a good chance Friday night that the Hawks’ bench was going to factor, but there’s no way that Kent Bazemore and Atlanta’s reserves could have known they would be so important in a 105-99 win over Portland.
Bazemore scored 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting, grabbed five rebounds, and most importantly played a career-high 39 minutes and 55 seconds in the Hawks’ 18th straight victory. The third-year pro from Old Dominion set a trend, yet was not alone as the Hawks’ reserves outscored Portland subs 38-18 in Philips Arena.
The Hawks began the game without starting small forward DeMarre Carroll (strained Achilles tendon) and lost Thabo Sefolosha just 2:21 in to a strained calf.
Bazemore had a hunch he’d play more, but no idea he’d end up a 40-minute man.
After returning to the bench from a bathroom break, he subbed in for Sefolosha and for a while filled his standard role as a perimeter defender/energizer.
Over the next couple hours, that role grew as he marked a variety of Trailblazers big and small(er).
“In that predicament [against bigger players], it’s about me using my feet more and with smaller guys it’s about using my length,” said the 6-foot-5 forward. “It’s a lot on the brain to keep switching gears like that, but that’s what they brought me in for.”
Bazemore had off help off the bench. Mike Scott scored 11 points and made all three of his 3-point shots, Dennis Schroder banked seven assists, and rarely-used third-year guard John Jenkins logged 4:41 in a game that remained tight.
“For Kent Bazemore to come in and play the way he did, and play as many minutes as he did [was important],” said head coach Mike Budenholzer. “John Jenkins for four minutes, those were an important four minutes. Dennis, in the second half, was good. Mike Scott hit some 3s and changes the momentum [in the fourth quarter.”
Trailing by five points to start the final quarter, the Hawks took off to the last, outscoring the Blazers 36-25.
Scott scored eight points in the period, when Schroder added six with four assists and Bazemore pitched in two rebounds and an assist.
Twice in the final five minutes Portland pulled within a point. The first time, Scott hit a long ball for a 92-88 lead with 4:34 left, and Schroder added a layup for a 94-91 lead just 39 seconds later.
Jenkins, who hit one of two shots and added two rebounds while playing for the fifth time in 47 games, has – like many reserves – had to bide time.
“I’ve been through a lot. My back surgery really helped me a lot as far as knowing I can get through anything in life so … I’m just staying ready,” he said. “I haven’t played real minutes in an NBA game since my rookie year so … you can’t be nervous because then you’ll play tense and go right back to the bench.”
Bazemore is noted for his energy, and even in playing so many more minutes than usual – he averages 11.8 – he wasn’t about to change his style.
“Whenever I was a step slow or felt like I was winded, I felt like the crowd got behind me and I just kept pushing,” he explained. “I only have one gear, I think, and if I’m out there trying to pace I’m not going to be as aggressive as I can be.
“Can’t take plays off; I’m not in a position to do that … I’m going to sleep good tonight, I’ll tell you that.”
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