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Bucks vs. Trail Blazers: That was a close one

Milwaukee overcomes a lackluster first half to pull off a historic comeback

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

For their final game of the week, after taking two against the Wizards and losing to the Celtics on Wednesday, the Milwaukee Bucks hosted Damian Lillard’s old team, the Portland Trail Blazers, for a Sunday matinee game at Fiserv Forum. It wasn’t a pretty game, but the Bucks got what they needed as they pulled off the second-largest comeback in franchise history (26 points) over the Blazers, winning 108-102. Giannis Antetokounmpo had a strong game, going for 33 points, 16 rebounds, six assists, and three blocks to lead Milwaukee. For Portland, Jerami Grant had 22 points to lead them to go along with four steals.

Game Summary

For the second time in three games, the Bucks got off to a slow start out of the gates with 3-for-9 shooting. They found a bit of momentum thanks to two three-pointers from the birthday boy Malik Beasley as they held a 16-11 lead with 6:24 left, forcing Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups to call a timeout. Portland responded immediately out the time out with a 9-2 run to take a 20-18 lead, forcing Adrian Griffin to call timeout at the 4:29 mark. With the rest of the team struggling to score, Giannis took control and scored eight straight points to end the quarter, but the balanced attack from the Blazers put them up 31-26 at the end of the quarter.

Portland continued their hot shooting from the first, as they started the second frame 3-for-3 from beyond the arc, two coming from No. 3 overall pick Scoot Henderson. After Giannis made a dunk with 10:39 in the quarter to go, they went scoreless for nearly three minutes before Beasley hit a 15-foot step-back jumper. In that time the Blazers were able to grow their lead to 12. The lead for Portland grew as large as 17 points thanks to a 15-8 scoring run powered by four more Blazers three-pointers. Milwaukee was able to make a bit of a run near the end of the quarter, outscoring Portland 8-0 to bring the game within single digits. The Trail Blazers were able to flip the script for the final three minutes as they went on a 9-2 run to go up 68-52 to end the half.

The Bucks could not cool off the Blazers’ hot shooting, as Portland built a lead as high as 26 points. Then at the 9:09 mark of the stanza, the Bucks went on a 16-2 run to bring them back within 11. It all started with Giannis and Dame taking turns scoring the ball, scoring 13 of the 16 points during the run. Portland responded again with Shaedon Sharpe and Scoot Henderson scoring the final five points of the frame as they took an 88-75 lead going into the final quarter.

Milwaukee was finally able to get over the hump in the fourth quarter. After the Blazers took a 95-82 lead with 8:32 left, the Bucks put together a 17-3 run to tie the game at 99 with 2:13 left. Portis and Lillard had some clutch baskets, scoring two straight three-pointers from Portis to bring the game within one possession. The two sides would go back and forth after that, as Mailk Beasley and Jerami Grant traded threes to tie the game at 102 with 39 seconds left. The real chaos occurred as after a missed layup between Dame and Porits, Giannis tipped it in with 19 seconds to give the Bucks the lead.

Portland would come back the other way with former Buck Malcolm Brogdon driving on Giannis and drawing his 6th foul. Head coach Adrian Griffin used his challenge to overturn the call to keep Giannis in. Milwaukee’s defense clamped down on Portland for the final 15 seconds as Lillard nailed four free throws to ice the game.

The Bucks next head to Miami for their final In-Season Tournament group play matchup on Tuesday, where their result could determine if either they or the Heat win their group.

What Did We Learn?

One of the big topics of conversation for the Bucks this season has been the fit of Giannis and Dame. Much has been made of their sometimes awkward meshing of styles and what they are used to doing. At least over the last two games, the duo are starting to figure out how to play on the court together. Here’s what Giannis had to say:

“As the season is moving forward we’re going to figure out ways to play with one another. Be more effective, be more efficient with one another (and) know one another's spots. At the end of the day, I think we’re getting to that point. Me as a teammate I understand the time where he needs the ball you got to get him the ball man and you got to get out of his way especially when it comes to the last eight minutes of the game. Five to 10 games ago, I didn’t know that and now I understand that I know what I’m dealing with. As I move on forward I can pick up on other things. For example, when he gets the rebound and I’m ahead of him, he’s used to bringing the ball up, but between three to three [point lines] I believe that I’m one of the most effective players in the league to make a play for myself, to make a play for a teammate [and] to create open shots. At the beginning of the season, those passes weren't there and now 10 games, 15 games into the season, that pass is there.”

Three Things

The Bucks’ resilience

In the locker room during post-game interviews, Portis said that the Bucks' resiliency helped through their second-half comeback.

“Just being resilient, staying with it, there’s two halves to a game. Things weren’t going our way, we missed some bunnies, missing layups (and) turning the ball over. We had to watch some things at half, correct some things, and go out there in the second half and give it our all.”

Giannis echoed those sentiments, as he said the Bucks started playing harder after the Blazers began the second half on a 13-3 run.

“There was more emphasis defensively to make big stops, we started switching, guarding better on the ball, and making them make tough shots. Early in the first quarter and second quarter, they got a lot of transition points out of turnovers and they were just feeling comfortable.”

Defense turns it up

It was a bad first half of defense for the Bucks, as they allowed the 30th-ranked offense in points per game and offensive rating to score 68 points and shoot 52% from the field. The Blazers also shot 10-for-17 from beyond the three-point line (58.8%) even with Portland currently sitting as the worst three-point shooting squad in the league at 32.4%. Things were a different story in the second half, as Griffin’s squad only allowed 34 points on 12-for-43 shooting from the floor (28%). The Blazers only scored 14 points in the fourth quarter and only made five shots. “We found the effort, the grit, and the toughness and we switched up some our matchups and coverages, but the players were tough,” Griffin said. “Defense is a lot about determination and grit and I thought we showed that in the second half collectively.”

Taking care of the ball when it matters

Throughout most of the game, the Bucks struggled to hold on to the basketball, coughing it up 16 times and allowing the Trail Blazers to score 27 points off those turnovers. In the fourth frame, the Bucks were able to control the ball much better, turning it over just one time and it came after a Matisse Thybulle steal against Bobby Portis. All of that allowed the Bucks to use a 17-3 run to set themselves up for their historic comeback win.

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • Chauncey Billups mentioned pre-game the parallels between Dame’s first game against the Blazers and his own against the Pistons in 2008 after getting traded to Denver. He said it was a mix of emotions for him to deal with and that he and Dame are similar in the fact that they can compartmentalize those feelings when it’s time to compete.
  • There is currently no timetable for Khris Middleton to return, according to head coach Adrian Griffin. He said that the former All-Star is day-to-day and they are looking to see how he responds to treatment.
  • Despite all the issues the Bucks have had on the defensive end, today was one of their best performances of the season. Milwaukee had a season-high 13 steals, led by Brook Lopez and Malik Beasley who each recorded a season-best three steals.
  • Andre Jackson Jr. is still going through his rookie growing pains. Despite coming into the starting lineup, he only played 11:32 in the game and recorded just one rebound without taking a shot. The second-round pick was also the only starter with a negative plus/minus at -11.
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo made some more franchise history with his performance today. It was his 107th career game with 30+ points, 10+ rebounds, and 5+ assists, passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most in Bucks history. His 107 such games are the sixth-most in NBA history.
  • Portis finished just two rebounds shy of a double-double with 12 points and eight boards. Coming into the game against Portland, the former Arkansas Razorback sat at 59 double-doubles off the bench which is two shy of tying Kevin McHale’s 61 for fourth all-time.

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