The Portland Trail Blazers eked out an overtime victory against the visiting Milwaukee Bucks tonight at the Moda Center, 120-115.
The Blazers came out looking pretty sluggish, allowing plenty of looks deep in the paint, as forward Ersan Ilyasova and guard Brandon Knight picked up eight and seven points in the quarter, mostly on layups. Portland gave up 16 total points in the paint in the first.
Nicolas Batum, meanwhile, decided to look for his own offense, scoring 16 points on eight shots in the period and single-handedly kept the Blazers in the game.
Eventually, Batum's teammates decided to get in on the act, as Mo Williams found Thomas Robinson for a fastbreak layup by threading the needle between Bucks defenders. This play woke the crowd up, but The Blazers continued to play mediocre defense and turned the ball over five times, allowing Milwaukee to maintain the lead. C.J. McCollum nabbed a steal from Nate Wolters at the end of the period and the Blazers went into the first break, down 29-26.
Terry Stotts opted to use the second quarter to rest his starters and get some extended minutes for his reserves. Williams, McCollum, Will Barton, Meyers Leonard and Robinson took the court together and played several minutes. The game remained close, thanks mainly to the offense created by Williams, who hit some nice shots, including a couple threes and a floater in traffic for 10 points in the period. Barton pushed the momentum Portland's way with an and-one layup, and the Blazers took the lead, 34-31, with just under 10 minutes remaining in the period.
Portland didn't look like they were taking the game very seriously, appearing to go through the motions with a lack of determination. Against many teams in the league, the Blazers might have dug themselves into a hole. Fortunately for the home crowd, the Bucks were, well ... the Bucks. Scoring 18 points in the period off some timely offense from forward Jeff Adrien, guard Ramon Sessions and Knight, Milwaukee was able to stay within striking distance for the duration of the quarter.
Meanwhile, the Blazers never fully took advantage of the Bucks' miscues, relying on some hustle points from Robinson, Williams' offense and a couple jumpers from Matthews and Batum to stay ahead going into halftime. With Damian Lillard taking only five shots in the first two quarters, Portland went to the locker room for the break after Lopez had a put-back dunk at the buzzer, up 52-47.
The halftime message sent by the Blazers coaching staff to the players at halftime clearly wasn't received early in the third period. Portland's starters came out appearing as unfocused as before, not moving the ball well and settling for contested shots.
After a missed dunk by Batum at the 10:33 mark of the third, the Blazers seemed to start running their offense, moving the ball around the perimeter and often finding Lopez down low. Still, the defense was a little lazy, as Bucks shooters in the lane were pretty much left open while Portland's help and rotations were slow. Milwaukee went on a short run midway through the quarter and took the lead, 71-67 at the 1:34 mark in the third.
Apparently, the Blazers realized that the Bucks had no business being up on them at this point in the game, and in the final minute-and-a-half of the period, Robinson hit a jumper, Lillard drove the lane and picked up a three-point play the old-fashioned way and Williams nailed a three-pointer and made a jumper as the horn sounded. The shot was eventually waved off after an official's review but the Blazers still entered the final frame up 75-72.
Portland came out in the fourth with Matthews and four reserves on the floor. Several layups were allowed for Milwaukee as the Blazers' defense repeatedly broke down. Williams' offense off the dribble kept Portland close early in the quarter while uncontested shots were continually allowed at the basket by the defense. The Bucks took a three-point lead at 84-81 on a Sessions floater with about eight minutes to go, which finally appeared to wake the Blazers.
Matthews then connected on a three-pointer, Lopez had a nice and-one play and Portland looked like it would turn the corner for good.
Instead of calling it a night and escaping with a comfortable win, though, the Blazers began stalling near the finish-line.
As Milwaukee lit up Portland's paint defenders, Matthews put the team on his back, hitting a few shots and getting to the free-throw line as the game remained close. Lillard hit a three-pointer and the Bucks missed several free-throws. With 10 seconds left in a tied game, Sessions was fouled by Lillard with the Bucks up one. Continuing a fourth quarter trend for Milwaukee, Sessions missed his second free-throw. Robinson grabbed the rebound and Stotts called the timeout, down 98-96 with nine ticks to go. Off an isolation play, Lillard drove around Knight, contorted while in the air and put in a layup with four seconds to go. After a Bucks timeout, the ball was thrown into Sessions, he missed a contested 26-foot three-pointer and the two teams headed into overtime, knotted at 98 points a piece.
The Blazers came into the extra period looking like they'd finally wrap things up and put away Milwaukee, up four points a minute into overtime after a floater by Williams and a jumper by Lillard. Unfortunately, Portland was unable to bury the opponent, as Milwaukee scored five quick points to take the lead with two-and-a-half minutes to go. Down 103-102, the Blazers finally took the lead for good when Matthews scored in the lane, got fouled and hit the free-throw to put the home team up 105-103.
After Matthews' three-point play, Lillard hit a couple shots, Matthews hit a three-pointer and the Bucks looked like they'd finally be ready to call it a night, down seven points with a minute to go. Milwaukee coach Larry Drew called for his team to foul. Milwaukee hit a few threes to keep the game within reach, though eventually they ran out of time while Portland hit all its free-throws down the stretch and the Blazers prevented what could have been one of the ugliest losses of the season and instead settled for what will surely be one of the ugliest wins of the season, a 120-115 overtime squeaker at home against the team with the worst record in the NBA.
Damian Lillard came out of the gates not looking for his own shot, instead opting to pass to his teammates once he found penetration in the lane. By the end of the first period, Lillard had only attempted two shots. By halftime, he had only taken five total shots, had two points and dished three assists. Lillard decided to be a little more aggressive in the third, launching four three-pointers but missed all of them.
By the end of the fourth quarter, with the game close, it was finally ready for the All-Star point guard to clock in for Lillard-Time. He canned his first three-pointer with under two minutes left, then hit the game-tying, contested layup to put the game into overtime. In the final frame, Lillard hit three shots, all his free-throws and led the team in scoring with 10 points in the extra minutes. He finished the game 7-21 from the field, a frustrating 1-11 from deep -- though the one three he did hit was huge -- and got himself to 20 total points on a night when he scored just two in the first half.
This was not a great game for Lillard, as he missed 10 three-pointers, was pretty passive in the first half and had five turnovers. Still, he found his extra gear when it mattered and was the difference for Portland in the end.
Nicolas Batum came out scorching the nets in the first quarter, lighting the Bucks up for 16 points on 6-8 shooting. After two periods, he had 19 points and it looked like he was primed for a big game. Batum came out in the second half and missed all six of his shots in quarters three and four. He played all five minutes of overtime and didn't attempt another shot. Batum finished the game with a quiet, near-triple-double with 21 points, nine boards and nine assists. He also hit all four of his free-throws and only committed one turnover as he kept his team in the game when no one else's shots were falling early on.
Wesley Matthews finally busted out of a rough several-game stretch where he wasn't shooting well, hitting eight of his 15 shots, 5-of-7 three-pointers and all five of his free-throws. Down the stretch, Matthews' aggressiveness, ability to draw fouls and convert on the subsequent free-throws proved to be a difference-maker as he bounced back tonight and led the Blazers with 26 points.
Robin Lopez looked good on offense when catching it on the way to the hoop, finishing strongly a number of times. Occasionally, he'd miss an easy layup or tip-in, but for the most part he was reliable with the ball. Lopez' rebounding was again huge, particularly on the offensive end where he pulled in seven boards. He finished the night with 15 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks and went 7-12 from the field in 37 minutes.
Dorell Wright got the start at power forward, and boy did he have a rough night shooting the ball in just 19 minutes of game time. In the first half, he went 0-8 from the field, 0-7 from deep and only played sparingly thereafter. By that time, Wright realized it wasn't going to be his night and deferred in the second half, even when he was open enough to justify the shot. It was just a bad overall night for him, as he finished with one point off a single free-throw.
Mo Williams carried the offense for stretches, showing up big in the second quarter and replacing Wright in the lineup for the five-minute overtime period. Williams hit all six of his free-throws, seven of his 12 shots and 3-of-5 three-pointers for 23 total points. His floater was looking solid tonight, as was his outside shot.
Thomas Robinson and Meyers Leonard picked up 16 minutes each, but had contrasting nights. Robinson had a solid fast break score off a nice Williams pass, hit a couple jumpers and looked pretty energetic overall, pulling down nine rebounds. Leonard looked out of position at times on defense, missed an easy dunk and didn't really make the most of his extended minutes tonight, only bringing in four boards.
C.J. McCollum had a quiet night, missing two three-pointers, though he did have a great steal against Wolters at the end of the first quarter to prevent some easy points for the Bucks.
Will Barton picked up 11 minutes and got the crowd fired up with a spinning layup in the second quarter, drawing the foul and hitting the free-throw. Otherwise, he was pretty quiet.
Victor Claver, Earl Watson and Allen Crabbe didn't get off the bench and added another DNP-CD to each of their game logs.
The Blazers came out sluggish, as if they expected to beat the Bucks tonight just by showing up. If not for solid individual performances by Batum and Williams in the first and second quarters, Portland would've been way down at the half as they clanked jumpers and allowed easy shots in the lane.
For much of the second half, the Blazers seemed to engage fully only in spurts, never putting away a Milwaukee team that should have never been in this contest after three-quarters, with or without LaMarcus Aldridge on the floor.
Fortunately for Portland, the Bucks have a way of shooting themselves in the foot, and did so tonight at the free-throw line, missing several foul shots down the stretch that would've put the Blazers on ice. For the game, Milwaukee out-rebounded Portland 53-47, outshot them from the field 45.9 to 43.3 percent, hit 8-17 from outside for a 47.1 percent clip compared to the Blazers' 12-39, 30.8 percent performance from deep, won the assist battle 28-25 and scored 56 points in the paint to Portland's 46. The Bucks did commit 19 turnovers to 16 for the Blazers, making for a sloppy game.
Though four players scored 20 or more points for the Blazers, the effort provided for this game was a far-cry from the one put out just two nights ago in the loss to the Warriors. Portland won in the end because they had just enough talent to overcome an energetic performance by a young Milwaukee squad and the Bucks turned the ball over like crazy and couldn't hit free-throws when they needed them most. Against the worst team in the NBA that's good for a victory some nights, but it likely would've been a different story against stiffer competition.
Either way, a win is a win and it's time to move on and prepare for the Wizards at home Thursday at 7 p.m. PDT, which also happens to be Blazersedge night at the Moda Center.
Brew Hoop will be shedding tears in their beers as they look back at this game and think about what could have been if the Bucks were able to pull out the late-game execution tonight.
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-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter