Eric Bledsoe may have led the Milwaukee Bucks in scoring, but it was Giannis Antetokounmpo who controlled the Bucks offense with his passing en route to the 137-129 victory. It was a thing of beauty to start the game for Milwaukee offensively, vaulting out to a quick 11-point advantage before the Blazers battled back immediately, but the first still ended with a 37-27 advantage. Halftime came after a high-scoring second period, with Milwaukee up 72-58 behind 14 points from Eric Bledsoe and 11 from Giannis. Portland kept up for most of the second half despite the Bucks’ best efforts, but they just didn’t have enough as Giannis stayed in until nearly the final buzzer despite being on a SEGABABA.
Giannis the Facilitator
No matter how many Blazers defenders surrounded him, and there were often many, Giannis consistently was able to use his size and vision to frequently find the open Buck. Whether it was operating from the free throw line and passing to cutters or guards flashing open after post-ups, or moseying into the elbow and drawing the eyesight of every Portland player before tossing it to the perimeter for a three-point splash, he controlled every element of the offensive end. Normally, a 9-27 night would be cause for concern for most players, but given the fact he drew more coverage like a paparazzi, it’s not all that surprising he occasionally found it tough to finish. The 24/15/19 stat line shows just how dominant he can be in all phases of the game,
Planet Pat Bakes a Revenge Pie
Sure, it’s been a full year since Pat Connaughton played for the Portland Trailblazers, but there must’ve been some sort of fire blazing in his belly tonight because just about every play was coming up Connaughton. The Blazers guards seemingly lost track of him multiple times on the weakside as they rushed like ants over to help defend Giannis. At one point, he was even able to show off his limited dribbling skills and knife through the Blazer’s butter-soft defense for a slamma jam directly through the heart of the paint. The cherry on top was his 7-10 shooting performance on the night.
Jumpshots are Great; Layups are Better
With no Hassan Whiteside, Damian Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic or Zach Collins, the Blazers were going to be hard-pressed to find players capable of giving them some inside scoring punch. They found some success early on, but later reverted to their jump shooting ways, which worked for the most part throughout the game as they shot 43.6% from deep on 39 attempts. Where they were thoroughly outmanned was within the paint on both ends. The Bucks held a 64-38 advantage in points in the paint and the Blazers gave up a ludicrous 18 offensive rebounds, despite the fact the Bucks entered the game in the bottom five percentage of offensive rebounding teams in the league. Add to that Portland shot just 46.2% at the rim (12-26), while Milwaukee went 26-39 (66.7%), and that all sounds just about like a victory to me, even if it was a bit wonky one at that.
Bonus Bucks Bits
Portland’s defense may be as stout as a fart in the wind, but Milwaukee’s precision passing for quick trigger triples to go along with savvy passing and ball-screening was still a sight to behold. They opened the game 7-7 from the field for a 17-6 lead.
CJ McCollum doesn’t register many blocks, just 28 all of last year, but it can’t be great for Wesley Matthews aging ego that McCollum notched another one against him this game.
Gravity was at work late in the first, with Giannis posting up his man on the elbow on the left side of the floor, drawing darn near every Blazer defender’s eyes towards him, completely freeing him up to do a skyhook pass to Connaughton in the corner for a triple.
Wow. Clear the airstrip for this 747:
Donte DiVincenzo flashed his defensive intuition yet again in the second quarter, jumping a passing lane that led to a lay-in on the other end. At this point, if he ends a game without a steal it’ll be a surprise.
I don’t want to say it felt super satisfying to see Carmelo get an isolation possession to end the first half, only to have his shot completely pancaked by a combo of Giannis and Brook, but it was pretty darn sweet.
With Carmelo Anthony still clearly getting up to speed defensively - not to mention the fact he was never known for his defense - poor Anthony Tolliver was again stuck with the task of guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo. I feel like the vet has had to body up and get stuffed in a trash can by The Greek Freak so many times over the years. He deserves our respect for getting back up each and every time.
Seeing Donte get the ball on a fast break and immediately attack a shorter Portland guard at the rim was an encouraging sign for his confidence finishing near the tin. For the most part, he looks to pass on the break, but sporting an ability to finish on the run too will only make his passing more lethal with defenses having to honor his shot.
I know Robin Lopez has struggled this season, but I can’t get over how much I enjoy his circus looping hook shots near the rim that somehow go in. That being said, if I were an opponent, I would tell whoever is guarding him to not give him one iota of respect if he’s spotted up around the arc. He went 0-2 in this one, bringing him to 6-25 (24%) on the year.
Portland averaged 18.7 assists per game, last in the NBA, coming into this contest. They had 32 against Milwaukee behind the strength of their 3-point shooting.
Another Donte defensive note, late in the fourth the Blazers swung the ball to the weakside where Donte had to navigate the in-between land of two men dotted up around the arc. He showed just enough pressure on Anthony Tolliver, knowing he would be less likely to shoot the triple, to force him to pass it to his fellow Blazer on the arc where Donte had a better shot to contest.
Both Donte and Giannis missed dunks off the back iron. Won’t see that very often.
Kudos to Eric Bledsoe who has now scored 20+ in seven of the last nine games, stepping up soundly in Khris Middleton’s absence.