The Portland Trail Blazers welcomed Damian Lillard and… Milwaukee Bucks to the Moda Center in style on Wednesday night, as they stood head-to-head with championship contenders and refused to back down even an inch. Milwaukee has a reputation for sloppy defense. They did nothing to refute that tonight.
Guards Scott Henderson and Anfernee Simmons carved them like roasted venison. Portland's interior play has also remained strong. They scored 56 points in the paint, taking advantage of another Milwaukee weakness.
Damian Lillard scored 25 in his first return in a running back, but Henderson answered with 15 and Simmons 24. Portland's frontcourt players showed their mettle as well. Deandre Ayton had 20 and Jerami Grant had 18.
As everyone expected, the driving story of the game was the initials “DL” in a twist of fate, although the “D” stands for defense…Milwaukee didn't play much. And the L? Portland beat the Bucks 119-116.
The Blazers shot 53.3% from the field, 42.9% from the arc, and held off Milwaukee's free throw attempt 19-9 by shooting 100% from the charity stripe.
What a night. What a win. If you're in the mood for it, consider donating a few tickets so kids in need can see these Jackets play later this spring. Watch it below, then enjoy reading how to achieve victory.
If the Blazers were going to be intimidated by the Bucks, they had a funny way of showing it. Jabari Walker scored three goals to start the game (as opposed to the two logo attempts that Lillard was about to miss), helping Portland start 3-5 from the field and take a 7-2 lead with 2:00 remaining.
Then the Bucks got stupid, going to Giannis inside for unstoppable shots. This brought them back immediately. It also opened up a three-point arc for Milwaukee. Khris Middleton and Malik Beasley struck from deep, and suddenly the tap was wide open for the Bucks. At 6:31, they came back to take a 17-14 lead, prompting coach Chauncey Billups to break the momentum as the timeout expired.
Anfernee Simons kept the Blazers rolling, hitting quick threes like Damian Lillard once did on the hardwood. Deandre Ayton also entered from the track. Portland's offense looked nice. Or maybe Milwaukee's defense didn't.
Brook Lopez hit a three-pointer to give the Bucks the lead again, but Scott Henderson and Dube Reith each scored on layups or dunks, with absolutely no fear. The atmosphere at the Moda Center seemed almost jubilant as both teams threw haymakers with abandon.
When Reith hit a three with 1:18 remaining, Portland stood within 1, 33-32. Milwaukee went on a short drive to push the lead to six again, but Henderson shot a three-pointer at the buzzer, completing an 11-point stretch, to Lillard's 8. Milwaukee led 38-37 after one.
Portland's second unit hit three shots to start the second quarter, keeping the pressure on their top visitors. They got the score, then engaged in a dogfight with Milwaukee over the next few minutes. Portland managed a couple of leads. But Giannis proved to be the trump card for everything they mustered, whether they scored or got to the line with impunity.
The Blazers scored their 50th point 8:00 into the second half. They played games without scoring much for the entire first half. The constant internal attack produced pleasant results. Milwaukee responded with more threes. The scoring fest was on.
To Milwaukee's credit, they started to get multiple defenders into the lane, which made Portland's attempts to throw the ball more difficult. Henderson and Simmons both reached the cup, but were unable to convert cleanly. A hat-trick from Matisse Thybulle eased things up again. Then Jerami Grant converted in the middle. Portland led 58-57 at the timeout with 3:52 left in the first half.
If anyone is going to play real defense, at least for that long, they're going to have to wait until the second half. Both teams missed shots, but it was almost by accident, not necessarily due to pressure. When the first half buzzer sounded, Portland led 67-65 at halftime.
The “uh-oh” meter started to rise at the start of the third quarter when Damian Lillard hit a killer three-pointer to start the scoring. Double buckets from Giannis made her drift even more towards the red. But Jerami Grant hit a layup, then committed a foul in the lane to help his team weather the storm. When Grant shook off a Lillard turnover on the next play, Milwaukee was looking for umbrellas themselves. Portland led 77-74 at the timeout with 8:21 remaining.
The teams finally started to miss some of their shots midway through the third period. Milwaukee still scored inside but couldn't hit a three to save their lives. Portland's offense was more limited. It was a restricted area or nothing.
Once again, Matisse Thybulle broke the spell, scoring a three-pointer with 3:40 remaining, putting Portland up 5 again. Then Scott Henderson drove, Dube beat Reith into the right corner, and despite fumbling the ball, Reith scored three goals. Maybe it was Portland night after all?
Khris Middleton tried to stop that combo as the quarter closed, hitting a pair of “Nuh Uh” threes. But Anfernee Simmons responded with one of his own. Back and forth the scoring went. once again. Simmons also made a high-guard slam in the lane with 2.9 seconds left in the period, giving Portland a 96-91 lead after three.
The fourth quarter
The start of the fourth period was a near disaster for Milwaukee. Trading increased. They didn't make any shots in the first two minutes of the quarter. In the same period, Malcolm Brogdon converted a transition layup and a 3-pointer at halfcourt, giving the Blazers a 101-91 lead. Bucks coach Doc Rivers called an emergency timeout to regroup and recover.
This regroup included free throws for a Giannis breakout, followed by a Portland turnover and a Lillard three-pointer. 5 points in 30 seconds for the Bucks forced Billups to call a timeout for Portland. The Blazers led 101-95 with 8:57 remaining.
Play settled down a bit after that. Lillard scored again but Deandre Ayton hit two straight shots, allowing Portland to breathe a little.
Then, in a “this could only happen to Portland” moment, a rebound off the ball appeared to hit Brook Lopez's midsection and go out of bounds, but the officials didn't see what happened and ruled it a jump ball. Between Lopez and competitor Ayton. Coach Billups challenged the call, but on the replay officials determined the ball actually bounced Anfernee Simmons' thighWhich means that Portland's challenge resulted in a less favorable outcome than the original missed call. Technically, this was a successful challenge, so the Blazers reserved the ability to discuss another call later.
The Bucks didn't score in that game (thank God), but Giannis converted the traditional three-point play the next play, leaving the score 107-102, with the fourth quarter more than halfway through.
Both teams focused on central scoring after that, with Ayton teeing Lopez up at the post and Lopez scoring three goals in retaliation. The diverse scoring group continued without leaving any stone unturned. Whatever the endgame was, it seemed certain to burn the place down.
Milwaukee scored first in the final four minutes. Malik Beasley converted a corner kick, followed by a Jerami Grant jump, then a short shot from Middleton. Portland still led with 3:09 remaining, but by only 4 points, 113-109.
Coach Billups used his second and final challenge on Toumani Kamara's foul on Lillard. And again, he was successful. But the coup caused the ball to bounce. The Bucks won the goal, and Lopez scored three more goals to reduce the difference to one goal, 113-112.
Grant hit a powerful jumper over Lillard on the next possession. Then, with the Blazers using two men to deny Giannis the ball, Lopez missed a three-pointer. Portland couldn't convert several shots on the next possession, then Lillard scored to make it 115-114, with Portland 1:13 remaining.
The Blazers turned the ball over on the next possession. Milwaukee saved its best defense of the game for last. That gave the Bucks the ball with less than a minute left in the game, still trailing by a minute.
Lillard missed the next shot, but Milwaukee forced another turnover and Giannis converted a quick pass from Dame, ultimately putting the Bucks ahead 116-115. But Anfernee Simons stepped up again, hit a floater, and regained the one-point lead. Milwaukee ball, 17.6 seconds remaining.
Giannis put up a huge block in front of Lillard inside, leading to a momentarily bloody release. But Ayton chased him down the far side, and then Malcolm Brogdon shut down the three-point chance, throwing a monkey wrench into Dame Time. Lillard passed to Lopez on the other side, but Brook missed the three-pointer. Brogdon perked up. The Bucks committed a foul (non-shooting) and Portland called timeout to take a 117-116 lead with 5.6 seconds left.
Jerami Grant received the inbounds pass after the Bucks crowded Simmons out of the opportunity. After the foul, Grant got two free throws. He hit both, leaving Portland up 119-116, with 4.6 seconds remaining, and no timeouts left for Milwaukee.
Giannis got the inbounds ball, then Grant fouled him with 2.8 seconds left. He missed the first goal, missed the second intentionally due to possession, and Brogdon put the ball back into the game.
Stay tuned for expanded analysis soon!
The Blazers head to the mile-high city to take on the Denver Nuggets on Friday night with Pacific Kickoff at 6:00 p.m.
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