The Milwaukee Bucks rode a 34-18 third quarter advantage to a 115-107 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers at the BMO Bradley Center tonight. The Bucks shot well all night, finishing at 53 percent, and drilled an uncharacteristic seven 3-pointers in the second half to turn a 58-53 halftime deficit into an 8 point win.
Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with a triple-double (15 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists) and was one of six Bucks to score in double figures. Jabari Parker led Milwaukee with 27 points.
Damian Lillard looked like he might be having “one of those nights,” scoring 22 in the first half and hitting 5 3-pointers. But the Bucks put the clamps down on Lillard in the third quarter and the Blazers’ star finished with “only” 30. CJ McCollum added 23 points and 5 assists.
The game started as expected; the Bucks pounded the ball into the paint and scored down low, while the Blazers rained down perimeter jumpers on the other end. Portland nailed their first four shots, and rode a wave of hot shooting to a 17-8 lead with 7:40 to go in the first. The Bucks responded by subbing in Greg Monroe and had him go to work on the Blazers’ poor paint defenders, sparking an 11-2 run. By the end of the first the Bucks had pulled even at 28-28.
Michael Beasley, who is apparently still in the NBA, took over for the Bucks and scored 7 quick points to start the second quarter. Parker also drove to the rim with impunity on his way to 15 first half points. The Blazers, however, relied on a combined 7 three-pointers from Meyers Leonard and Lillard to take a 58-51 lead.
It was clear in the third quarter that the Bucks had made some adjustments; a more controlled Milwaukee defense took away Portland’s passing lanes and forced the Blazers into repeated one-on-one situations. On the other end the Bucks began converting their open 3-point opportunities - they would shoot 7-for-13 from three in the second half. The result: a 34-18 third quarter advantage for the Bucks, and an 85-76 lead heading into the fourth.
The Blazers tried to make a comeback in the fourth, and did cut the lead to 2 (101-99) on an Allen Crabbe triple with 4:16 to go. But six turnovers in the first six minutes of the quarter, and an inability to keep Antetokounmpo, Parker, and Matthew Dellavedova (sigh) out of the paint stifled the rally. Add in some damaging mental lapses down the stretch, and it became clear that the Blazers would not win this one:
The Bucks walked away with a 115-107 victory.
The Bucks’ second half defense was the key to tonight’s game. Milwaukee, known for their frenetic trapping style, spent the first half over-doubling, going so far as to send multiple defenders after Al-Farouq Aminu and Ed Davis. The Blazers responded by swinging the ball around the perimeter and finding open jumpers. The result: 12-for-22 shooting on threes and 16 assists on 20 field goals in the first half.
Head Coach Jason Kidd responded by toning down his team’s defense in the second half, eschewing double teams in many situations and becoming more conservative with his traps. This let the Bucks’ players use their length to get into passing lanes and prevented the ball movement and open shoots that helped Portland thrive in the first half.
As a result, the Blazer guards spent much of the third quarter going one-on-one against solid defenders and shooting contested jumpers or contorting lay-ups. To make matters worse, after committing only 7 turnovers in the first three quarters, the Blazers turned the ball over 6 times in the first half of the fourth - a mortal sin against the Bucks trapping, fast break attack. The result: 5-for-18 shooting on threes and 9 assists in the second half.
As expected, the rim-protector-less Blazers’ defense struggled against a Bucks team that thrives on getting buckets in and around the paint. The Bucks dominated the Blazers inside with a 34-10 points in the paint advantage in the first half. In the second half the Blazers doubled down on protecting the paint and repeatedly dropped as many defenders as possible off the perimeter. Milwaukee responded by canning the open jump shots, including 7 threes. They finished at 52 percent from the field.
In general, Head Coach Terry Stotts can live with giving up buckets around the rim to Antetokounmpo, Parker, and Monroe. The Greek Freak is more or less unstoppable at times, and showed it on several occasions tonight:
But letting Dellavedova drive to the rack for multiple fourth quarter floaters and lay-ups is a different story. The Blazers may have been able to win tonight if the offensive fireworks were restricted to Parker and Antetokounmpo, but once afterthoughts like Dellavedova and Beasley got involved, it was clear Portland would not be victorious.
As much as the Portland defense has improved in recent games, it’s discouraging to see second tier players play crucial roles down the stretch, while the opposing starters are still racking up triple-doubles and 27 points. Eventually, the Blazers are going to need to learn how to pick a single poison, rather than downing the entire chemistry set.
Damian Lillard started strong and then faded once the Bucks defense adjusted. Eight points and no 3s in the second half tarnishes an otherwise excellent 30-7-6 stat line.
CJ McCollum did his best to keep the Blazers alive down the stretch, but couldn’t use his one-on-one skills to get his teammates involved. He finished with 23 points on 15 shots and 5 assists.
Moe Harkless was active, as always, and managed to stuff the stat sheet with 11 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals, despite finishing only 1-for-5 on threes. He did his best against Antetokounmpo but was generally overmatched. Harkless tweaked his ankle in the final minute but stayed in the game. It may be worth watching his movement tomorrow against Memphis to see if he shows any ill effects.
Mason Plumlee also stuffed the stat sheet with 10 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 3 blocks. He had a couple of nice weakside help rejections that highlighted his athleticism, but was overmatched against Monroe and the other big men.
Ed Davis appeared in this game (if you can’t say something nice...). The fact that Noah Vonleh still can’t break into the rotation despite Davis’ ineffective play is ...alarming. Davis had only 2 points and 5 rebounds.
Allen Crabbe finished with 14 points and 4 3-pointers. He hit several key shots during the failed rally attempt. The shooting is very nice to see from Crabbe, but he is still a disaster any time he does something other than shoot.
Evan Turner probably should have been more effective in the second half given the emphasis on one-on-one play. He finished with 6 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists.
Brew Hoop should buy us a beer in return for the win.
Eric Griffith | GoBlazers87@gmail.com | @DeeringTornado