After an encouraging victory in Minnesota to begin a four-game road trip, the Portland Trail Blazers were back in the saddle Monday as it visited the Milwaukee Bucks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Like the team's arena name, the Bucks featured a lineup of overly long defenders which gave Portland's comparatively smaller counterparts fits all night.
For much of the contest, 6'3" CJ McCollum was draped over by 6'7" Khris Middleton, while the 6'11" "Greek Freak" Giannis Antetokounmpo wreaked havoc defensively, shadowing the Blazers all over the court.
The Blazers were led by Damian Lillard (23 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds), Ed Davis (10 points, 13 rebounds) and McCollum (17 points, 5 steals). The Bucks were led by Antetokounmpo (17 points, 9 rebounds) and Greg Monroe (16 points, 12 rebounds).
The Blazers offense felt the disruptive effects of Milwaukee's length immediately - the Bucks got all up in Portland's passing lanes and dared them to try moving the ball against its rangy defenders.
On one early possession, Lillard had the ball stripped by Jabari Parker as he attempted to split a double-team, which led to a fast-break dunk by Antetokounmpo. Even routine entry passes 30 feet away from the rim were getting picked off, as Milwaukee racked up steals on its next two possessions as it built an early lead.
The Bucks seemingly had hands on every loose ball and forced the Blazers to shoot outside and away from the inside presence of Monroe and Antetokounmpo. Aside from a posterizing dunk from Lillard, Portland was mostly forced to hoist - and miss - long jump shots as the home team continued to pound away in the paint.
A nifty reverse by CJ McCollum to close the quarter kept the score within single-digits, but with a line of 16 points on 33% shooting, six turnovers and 0-6 from deep, it would be another entry to the uncomfortably growing list of disappointing opening periods.
End of First: Portland 16, Milwaukee 25
The pace sped up a bit more to Portland's liking in the second quarter, and while a bit of run-and-gun yielded better shot selection, the Blazers still struggled to convert, missing another five from long range before CJ McCollum willed in his fourth attempt to close the gap to 38-27.
Opportunity wasn't necessarily hard to come by as Milwaukee left the door wide-open to waltz through - going without a field goal for about four minutes during the period - but Portland returned the favor going scoreless for about the same amount of time.
Sloppy layups, errant passes, a handful of airballs and two timeouts later, somehow the score had hardly fluctuated. For all of the Blazers' woes, the Bucks didn't make them pay - scoring only 17 points in the quarter to hold the status quo heading into the locker room.
Halftime: Portland 33 , Milwaukee 42
The cold shooting didn't improve much in the second half, but Noah Vonleh scrapped his way to several offensive rebounds to generate some much-needed second-chance points.
Milwaukee's half-court offense showed signs of its youth - practically given the post-up in single-coverage each trip down the floor, the Bucks rushed shots, got caught traveling three times and looked somewhat unsure of who to go to as Portland started to chip away at the lead.
If the Blazers couldn't buy a three-pointer in the first half, they were being given away to close the third. Back-to-back lasers by Lillard and McCollum cut a nice chunk into the deficit before Lillard bested fellow former Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams in a jump ball, which would immediately lead to a three by Allen Crabbe to pull within one.
Feeling it, Lillard closed the quarter with two more from deep - including a nice "did you forget about me?" fadeaway from the right corner to give Portland it's first lead since the first quarter.
End of Third: Portland 62, Milwaukee 60
It was the Davis and Crabbe show for much of the fourth quarter, as each accounted for all of the Blazers' offense for the first half of the period.
Although at this point it just about goes without saying, Davis brought his lunch pail Monday and went to work. Without his interior presence and tenacity, Portland would have been ran out of the gym. "Doing the dirty work" doesn't even say the half of it; Davis was key and continues to show his dependability.
Milwaukee started to pull away with about six minutes remaining on Carter-Williams free throws before Middleton's three gave the Bucks its lead back at 75-69. Aminu and Lillard answered right back with threes of their own and Davis's layup in traffic, followed by an emphatic block on Carter-Williams at the other end helped regain the advantage for the Blazers at 79-75.
The Bucks found some success playing the foul game in the closing seconds and managed to pull within one with just 15 seconds to go - on the Blazers' penultimate possession,
McCollum was tied up by Carter-Williams on the inbound pass and lost the ensuing jump ball, which led to a layup by Monroe to put Milwaukee up by a point with only five seconds remaining. Leonard's floater was blocked to seal the Bucks' win.
No rest for the weary as Portland continues its road trek through the Midwest tomorrow against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena - tip-off will be an early one at 4 p.m. Stay tuned to Blazer's Edge tonight, for extended analysis of this game from Dave Deckard.
-- Ryan Rosback | email@example.com | Twitter
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