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Milwaukee vs. Portland: Everything Coming Up Roses

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NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks won seven games in a row, and against the Portland Trail Blazers they decided, “hey, why not eight?” Their 127-108 victory puts them at 37-17 on the year, a full twenty(!) games above 0.500 and a mere 1.0 games back of the East-leading Boston Celtics.

Three Things

The Bucks had an all-you-can-eat buffet going against Portland’s front court. Milwaukee is often the bigger team in any game they play, but the size difference in this one was stark. The Blazers were without Jusuf Nurkic, and their only other rotation-level center (Drew Eubanks) is only 6’9”. Jerami Grant (6’8”) has played a fair amount of center lately, but against a massive Milwaukee team the deck was stacked against the home team tonight. Few players benefited more from the disparity than Brook Lopez (27 points, 9 rebounds) who reached the 15,000 career points milestone, but Jrue Holiday (20 points, 8 assists) bullied his way to inside position often as well. The Blazers were simply too small, and sometimes that makes all the difference.

Milwaukee’s perimeter defenders got a thorough workout in this one. With the aforementioned size advantage in their favor, Portland’s bevy of talented guards put the Bucks’ backcourt stoppers on display. Jrue Holiday, Wes Matthews, and Jevon Carter all got ran over, under, around, and through screens while chasing the skilled Blazer guards, exercising their switching defense and keeping up...relatively well. With Bobby Portis unavailable, the Bucks experimented with some smaller lineups tonight (no Giannis, no Brook) to stress-test the defense, and Portland was able to put some things together attacking the basket for long stretches of this game. Damian Lillard (28 points on 18 shots, 5 assists) struggled most of the night getting open from behind the arc and instead chose to drive inside, but this played into Milwaukee’s strategy for most of the night. Meanwhile, Anfernee Simons (21 points on 16 shots, 5 assists) couldn’t get much else going, and that left the Blazers playing from behind the whole night.

The offense will get the credit, but the defense blew this game open in the third quarter. Portland mustered only six points in the final 6 minutes of the third, including a stretch of ten straight missed field goals before Simons made a layup with 17.7 seconds left. Milwaukee got dinged for more fouls than they usually do, but when you’re giving up free throws and not much else, your opponent is in for a bad time. The Bucks were executing their defense perfectly, running shooters off the line while sealing off the rim before driving lanes could open wide enough to be exploited. On the evening, Portland shot a woeful 40.7% from the field, including 9-for-36 from deep (25.0%), with only a strong night at the foul line (25-for-29) buoying their otherwise stifled offense.

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • In a surprise twist pregame, one of the three game referees (James Capers) was unavailable to officiate tonight due to injury, and without a backup available the game commenced with only two refs on the court. You may think that going down one referee would result in fewer calls, and you would be incorrect: there were 12 fouls called in the first quarter and 47 overall. (20 on Portland, 27 on Milwaukee).
  • Giannis had two first quarter turnovers where the ball seemed to just slip out of his hands. Very uncharacteristic, considering the size of his hands.
  • Brew Hoop alumnus Aron Yohannes was in the building for this one. Just goes to show you just how far and wide Brew Hoopers are spread across this big old world of ours.
  • Damian Lillard tweaked his ankle early in the first quarter, but seemed to walk it off without further worry. That it happened as a result of getting tangled up with Grayson Allen while running around a screen was thankfully a forgotten footnote that would, let’s say, be vividly remembered if the scenario had turned out differently.
  • Khris Middleton (13 points, 5 assists) got his first minutes inside the 5-minute mark of the opening period tonight, taking the court even after Joe Ingles (5 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists) got the call off the bench. As he continues inching his way back to normal, he’s starting to look more and more spry. You know, by his (or Joe’s!) standards.
  • Not sure if it’s been noticed yet or not, and he didn’t play tonight, but George Hill has braids now. It’s a good look for him! He should have gone to it much earlier in his career, if this is in fact new for him.
  • We had a MarJon Beauchamp sighting! The rookie hails from the Pacific Northwest, and the Portland faithful were welcoming hosts. Beauchamp started the second quarter on the court, and took no time to dive head-first into his defensive assignments. He managed to free himself up on the baseline and laid the ball in the basket, despite the shot clock rapidly waning and his attempt actually getting blocked on the way up! Unfortunately, the basket was taken away upon review because the ball hadn’t yet fully left his hand…but that’s okay MarJon, we’ll count it! Beauchamp ended up with 5 points and 4 boards.
  • Lillard casually bombed a three pointer home from damn near half-court in the final minutes of the second quarter, and when I say “casually” I mean that shot attempt was wearing a silk robe and lambskin slippers. It was as comfortable as it was mesmerizing. That thing didn’t even consider grazing the rim despite being launched from 40 feet away. I mean, just look at this shot.
  • As usual, Giannis does a little bit of everything – well, a lot a bit of everything – but tonight he was a bit sloppier than usual. He put up 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists, but with 5 personal fouls and 6 turnovers, the Greek Freak’s impact was somewhat muted when compared to his recent stretch of play…which is saying something about how absurd his standards have become.
  • Jevon Carter (11 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) had his jumper working this evening, and when he demonstrates the confidence to let it fly, he’s eminently more playable on offense. His size disadvantage will always be there in playoff situations, but in the regular season Carter has a clear role that would help the team…as long as he keeps shooting his shot.
  • The trade deadline is next week, and Jordan Nwora didn’t play in any meaningful minutes during this game. These two events are likely unrelated, but here I am mashing them together to see if they stick. Even Thanasis Antetokounmpo got the call in garbage time ahead of Nwora!

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