Two teams with completely different trajectories came together in the Moda Center on Saturday night as the Portland Trail Blazers faced off against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks are defending NBA Champions, aiming to repeat behind superlative play from former NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Blazers...not so much. Half of their starting lineup is unrecognizable. Don’t even ASK about the bench.
Milwaukee shot 53.3% from the floor in the game, 46.0% on three-pointers. Antetokounmpo scored 29 with 9 rebounds and 6 assists in 25 minutes. (The Bucks only needed him for 20.) and Bobby Portis exceeded him with 30, shooting 11-13, 6-8 from distance. Anfernee Simons and Ben McLemore led the Blazers with 19 apiece, but in the face of that kind of competition, it didn’t matter. The Bucks won 137-108, sending Portland’s record to 21-33.
Milwaukee came into this game in cruise control, perhaps looking past Portland to stiffer competition. The Blazers counter the opponent’s relaxed approach by hoisting a bevy of jumpers, most of which missed. Single set-up passes and iso attempts typified Portland’s play. You kind of knew how the game was going to go when Antetokounmpo hit as many threes in the opening minutes as the Blazers did. And threes were the main part of their diet.
A couple minutes into the game, Jusuf Nurkic dunked over Giannis on the roll and barked at Milwaukee’s MVP a little. Giannis responded by running off 9 points, when he had been content to pass to teammates before.
Throughout the period, the Bucks defense had no problem reading Portland’s relatively simple offense. The Blazers had all kinds of problems trying to stop Antetokounmpo on the other end. When Milwaukee also started hitting their jumpers. Portland had no chance.
The good guys made a brief, flaring comeback when Giannis sat and Milwaukee’s bench faltered in his stead. Even giving back half of their margin, the Bucks still led 34-26 after one.
CJ McCollum decided that if the Blazers weren’t going to win this game, he should at least lead the offense. McCollum took over big-time at the start of the second, twisting for layups between helpless Bucks defenders. He made the margin shrink for a while, with the caveat that Milwaukee was always a pass and a three away from stretching it back out again. And boy did they triple. The simplest action from one of their bigs drew attention from Portland’s smaller, and largely helpless, defenders. A shooter was always open at the other end of those plays. McCollum and Anfernee Simons kept firing, but all the king’s horses and all the king’s guards weren’t going to make this matchup less hard.
Giannis took pity on the Blazers and started setting up teammates again during the middle minutes of the second. That made Portland’s efforts look much better. It felt like he had an Area-51-like boundary around the six-point lead, though. “As long as you keep your distance, you can look all you want. Step inside the fence and you’re done.” When Antetokounmpo sat, Portland could flirt with success. When he was on the floor, the security posts were manned.
McCollum, Simons, and Nurkic took turns canning shots through the remainder of the second, the guards from the perimeter and the center inside. They hit plenty, but nobody could stop the Bucks. Milwaukee led 70-54 at the half.
The Bucks came out in the third doing everything they had in the first two quarters, especially hitting jumpers. Making matters worse, they also upped the tempo and ran the Blazers out of the building. Their lead ballooned to 25 before five minutes had elapsed. Portland defenders couldn’t catch up on the break or halfcourt cuts. When they did get close, they fouled. No matter. The Bucks had long since achieved escape velocity.
The Blazers kept feeding Nurkic inside and shooting threes, but it was academic, all for fun. The Bucks hit 100 with 2:57 remaining in the third period. The Blazers wouldn’t get there until 2:57 remained in the game. That’s all you need to know about this one.
Stay tuned for more analysis from the evening!
The Blazers will face the Orlando Magic on Tuesday night with a 7:00, Pacific start time.