A night defined by sloppy play ended with the simplest of scenarios, a one-on-one with Malcolm Brogdon guarding Damian Lillard, and an opportunity for the Blazers’ star to send the game to overtime with a three. Instead, the ball caromed off the backboard, and the Bucks emerged winners in Portland, 93-90.
The entire game felt like a series of peculiar runs, with Portland periodically placing Milwaukee’s defense in the shredder off guard penetration while the Bucks repeatedly attacked the Blazers’ odd decision to switch guards onto Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. Milwaukee did managed to build up a sizable lead at one point in the third, but that dwindled as the fourth approached. Despite Jason Kidd opting to start the fourth without either of his two stars, somehow the Tellytubbies gang managed to stay afloat. The Bucks pulled it out by preventing the Blazers from scoring for the final three minutes of regulation.
Giannis stamped this game with an impactful performance that also featured scoreless first and third quarters from him. He accrued 22 points (8-21 shooting), eight rebounds, three assists, one steal and two blocks on the night. Khris Middleton was an efficient gunner, tallying 26 points, three rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block, although he also had four turnovers. The rest of the Bucks roster was a mishmash of balanced scoring.
For Portland, Damian Lillard continued his torrid streak with 31 points, five rebounds, seven assists and four steals. All of that came despite a lackluster 2-9 game from deep. His running mate, CJ McCollum added 21 points on the night.
Both teams shot an identical 42.2% from the field, but the Bucks had seven more field goal attempts for the game, and Portland was merely 4-21 (19.9%) from deep compared to 7-16 (43.8%) for Milwaukee. The Bucks coughed up the ball in the second half, allowing 14 points on eight turnovers in that half, and failed to record any fast break points outside of their 11 in the first half.
Portland vaulted ahead to start the game 8-0, with Milwaukee offering as much resistance as a timid freshman playing pickup in gym class. Portland wormed to the rack repeatedly, and Milwaukee finally got on the board with several Malcolm Brogdon layups. Khris Middleton worked the Bucks back into it with myriad finishes at the hoop and splashing a three as Milwaukee trailed just 17-15. Following a series of sloppy back-and-forth possessions, Jason Terry nailed a three and the Bucks were down 21-18 after one. Giannis failed to register a point in seven minutes, while Middleton had half the team’s points.
Giannis got going to start the second, taking out his frustration on the rim with a skying slam. Despite some of his layups continuing to rim out, he hit a jumper and got to the line to give Milwaukee a four-point lead. Giannis continued his aggressiveness, assaulting the rim on switches and staking the Bucks to a 36-31 lead with a little under four minutes to go. Khris Middleton re-entered the game and after a corner three creaked in, he pulled up for a transition jumper and expanded the Bucks’ lead to 13. The Bucks went into halftime up 48-35 following a second quarter where they outscored the Blazers by 16.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 15 points (all in the second) and four rebounds, while Khris Middleton reached 15 points as well to go along with two assists and three steals. For Portland, their two guards were the usual highlights. Damian Lillard had 11 points, while McCollum sat at 10.
Milwaukee recovered from a poor shooting first quarter to shoot 41.7% on the half, besting Portland’s 38.9% mark (which included just 1-9 shooting from deep). The Bucks used 10 Blazers’ turnovers to score 10 points, and they were leading in fast break points 11-2 at half.
Khris Middleton came out hands blazing in the second half, contorting his way to an impossibly strange flip-in and hitting a turnaround midrange jumper. Following a Greg Monroe free throw, the Bucks led 63-49. Portland responded as Damian Lillard either snaked his way to the rim or found roll men left open in the welcoming wake of Greg Monroe’s hedging on pick and rolls. Milwaukee went cold down the stretch, just as Lillard started heating up and the Bucks led only 67-63 heading into the fourth.
Milwaukee opted for a lineup devoid of Middleton or Giannis to start the fourth, a risky gamble some might also call dumb. Yet, miraculously, Mirza Teletovic finally chucked in two 3-pointers, with a Delly squirt shot sandwiched between them, and somehow the Bucks still led 78-71. Giannis finally returned at the 7:45 mark, and while he attacked Lillard on switches almost immediately, the Bucks defense couldn’t contain Dame on the other end. Milwaukee went to a smallball lineup for a stretch with Giannis at center, but Lillard continued to rip them apart as the Bucks’ attempted to match them with buckets around the rim.
Milwaukee hit back with a series of scores, as Khris Middleton backed the Blazers down for a bucket and dish to a cutting Giannis that ended in a Henson put-back giving Milwaukee a 93-90 lead. Khris Middleton missed an open pull-up jumper that rattled out, and Damian Lillard tried for a driving layup with ten seconds left as Giannis emerged from the heavens to send Lillard’s shot towards the stands. Lillard attempted a deep 3-pointer against Malcolm Brogdon on the perimeter as the clock ran down, and it clanked harmlessly away as the buzzer sounded. Milwaukee won 93-90.
- In theory, Thon Maker should be the kind of center capable of wrangling a spidery guard like Lillard with his decent foot speed and length. That wasn’t the case tonight though, as he couldn’t cobble together stops against Lillard in the pick and roll in the early going. Thon couldn’t recover from getting out to guard the 3-point line as Lillard sliced by him easily. He got the usual quick hook again, and didn’t start the second half. What a wonderful three minutes it was though.
- Greg Monroe had Meyers Leonard on an isolation and chose to shoot a midrange jumpshot. Just take the man down low already.
- Meyers Leonard’s defensive rim protection statistics may tick up a bit after this game, but in reality the Bucks just missed some simple shots against him in the first. Greg Monroe bungled a few post-up attempts, traveled on one possession and a Giannis’ lay-up rolled off the rim. Also, he didn’t play in the second half, so that tells you how much Terry Stotts thought of his contributions.
- I abhor delay of game calls. Gannis had a giant dunk in the second quarter and the ball happened to hit off him and continue to roll out of bounds. It rarely seems a player is genuinely trying to delay the game.
- Milwaukee got Damian Lillard switched onto Giannis several times early in the first quarter, but he didn’t take advantage of the clear mismatch. Later, Milwaukee got Shabazz Napier switched onto Giannis and smartly provided him the opportunity to go to work. He drew a foul and drove to the hoop for a layup that John Henson politely cleaned up for a dunk. Anytime Milwaukee draws an inferior, shorter defender onto Giannis, any possession they don’t get him the ball is a wasted possession. Tonight, that was particularly true, with Portland peculiarly switching guards onto him all night. They managed to exploit that more and more as the game went on, and it started to become their default offensive set by virtue of its effectiveness.
- Speaking of aggressive Giannis, he sloughed off whatever passive bug was pestering him last game, and looked entirely engaged in the second quarter following a scoreless first. He repeatedly demanded the ball, and looked interested in attacking the Blazers early in the possession too. He scored 15 points in the quarter.
- Khris Middleton had a few rough defensive possessions tonight. He let Allen Crabbe slip by him while he comfortably watched the ball on the perimeter, and later CJ McCollum easily slipped by him as Middleton’s stance got tangled and the Blazer guard scooted past him. The same thing happened late in the fourth. Khris Middleton is a good defender, and his skills are leveraged very well in this scheme where he’s able to help off and snag steals, but his one-on-one ability leave a lot to be desired. Tony Snell’s ascendance in that regard has been very encouraging, and it’s obvious by the type of assignments Snell draws (Lillard and McCollum at points tonight) on a nightly basis that his foot speed and individual defense is something that’s been very beneficial to the Bucks’ defense this year.
- Khris Middleton threw a beautiful out of bounds baseline pass to a back-cutting Tony Snell for a lay-in at the hoop. It was pretty, and a nice finish under some duress by Snell.
- Jason Kidd deciding to start the fourth quarter with a lineup of Delly, Snell, Terry, Telly and John Henson is inexplicable, particularly given the Blazers were literally just coming off a run towards the end of the third. Milwaukee may not have given up the lead in the four minutes those four shared the court, but that was solely because Teletovic managed to stroke a few threes. It felt like King Leonidas and his 300 against the Persians. Every bucket was accompanied by a sigh of relief and exasperation at the fact they managed to manufacture a score. Marques Johnson referred to the move as a roll of the dice, a gamble. As someone who enjoys winning, I don’t think I’ll plan on heading to Vegas with Coach Kidd anytime soon.
Kidd boldly going with the "no good players" lineup to start the fourth.— FrankMadden (@fmaddenNBA) March 22, 2017
- Just got word that Henson may’ve been subbed out in the fourth as an attempt to salvage what was left of his hips, wrists and pride:
Oh my GOODNESS Damian Lillard just made John Henson eat wood MAN DOWN!!!! pic.twitter.com/cUEtRwfrbS— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) March 22, 2017
- Milwaukee went smallball down the stretch to match up against Noah Vonleh for the Blazers at center. They quickly reversed course after Damian Lillard managed to penetrate off several high pick and rolls, opting to throw John Henson in instead. Eventually, that forced Portland to switch in Jusuf Nurkic, but Henson’s impact was relatively minor, as Giannis was the one providing the most useful rim protection down the stretch. His block of Lillard’s late layup attempt as John Henson watched from behind proved a telling image.