Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Trail Blazers Damian Lillard pushes to thrilling win over Bucks

The Portland Trail Blazers welcomed Damian Lillard Milwaukee Bucks He arrived at the Moda Center in fine style on Wednesday night, standing toe-to-toe with championship contenders and refusing to back down an inch. Milwaukee has a reputation for sketchy defense. They did nothing to deny that tonight.

Guards Scoot Henderson and Anfernie Simons carved them up like a venison roast. Portland's inside game was also strong. They exploited another Milwaukee weakness and scored 56 in the paint.

Damian Lillard scored 25 in his first homecoming in an opposing uniform, but Henderson countered with 15 and Simons 24. Portland's forwards also had a strong performance. Deandre Ayton had 20 and Jeremy Grant had 18.

As everyone expected, the game's driving story featured the initials “DL”. And L? Portland dropped one to the Bucks, 119-116.

The Blazers shot 53.3% from the field, 42.9% from the arc, and held Milwaukee's 19-9 free throw attempt advantage to 100% from the charity stripe.

What a night. What a win. If you're in a good mood because of this, consider donating two tickets below and enjoy reading how the win unfolded.

First quarter

If the Blazers were going to be intimidated by the Bucks, they showed it in a funny way. Jabari Walker hit a three-pointer to start the game (as opposed to two logo attempts Lillard would miss), helping Portland start 3-5 from the field and take a 7-2 lead with 2:00 left.

After that, the Bucs went nuts, going to Giannis inside for unstoppable shots. It brought them right back. That opened up a three-point arc for Milwaukee. Khris Middleton and Malik Beasley hit from deep and suddenly the pipeline was wide open for the Bucs. At the 6:31 mark, they led 17-14, prompting head coach Chauncey Billups to break the momentum with a timeout.

Anfernie Simons kept the Blazers rolling, hitting quick threes like Damian Lillard once did on this hardwood. Deandre Ayton also pitched in from the lane. Portland's game was good. Or, perhaps, Milwaukee's defense isn't.

Brooke Lopez hit a three to put the Bucks back up, but Scoot Henderson and Dube Reith both scored on layups/dunks. The atmosphere at the Moda Center seemed almost euphoric as both teams threw haymakers.

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Portland pulled within 1, 33-32, when Reith hit a three with 1:18 left. Milwaukee went on a mini-run to push the lead back to six, but Henderson finished with an 11-point period, as opposed to Lillard's 8, as Milwaukee went 3-for-37 on a three-pointer.

Second quarter

Portland's second unit hit three shots to start the second quarter, keeping the pressure on their top-ranked visitors. They tied the score, then engaged in a dogfight with Milwaukee over the next few minutes. Portland managed a pair of leads. But Giannis proved a trump card no matter what they mustered, scoring or getting into the lineup with impunity.

The Blazers scored their 50th point after the 8:00 mark of the second period. They did not score much throughout the first half. A sustained internal attack yielded pleasant results. Milwaukee countered with three more runs. The marking ceremony was going on.

To Milwaukee's credit, they began to bring multiple defenders into the lane, making Portland's attempts more difficult. Both Henderson and Simons came to the cup, but couldn't convert cleanly. A trio from Matisse Thybulle eased back. Then in the middle Jeremy Grant turned goal. Portland led 58-57 with 3:52 left in the half.

If anyone is going to play real defense, at least for the long term, it will have to wait for the second half. Teams missed shots, but that happened by accident, not necessarily due to pressure. When the halftime buzzer sounded, Portland led 67-65 at the half.

In the third quarter

The “Oooh” meter started spiking early in the third quarter as Damian Lillard hit a killer three to open the scoring. Giannis' double buckets moved it further into the red. But Jeremy Grant hit a layup and then drew a foul in the lane to help his team weather the storm. When Grant fumbled off a Lillard turnover on the next play, Milwaukee was looking for umbrellas. Portland led 77-74 at halftime with 8:21 remaining.

Finally in the middle moments of the third the teams started to miss some shots. Milwaukee still scored inside, but couldn't hit a three to save their souls. Portland's offense was still underwhelming. It's not a restricted area or anything.

Again Matisse broke the Thybulle spell, hitting a three with 3:40 left to put Portland up 5 again. Then Scoot Henderson swung in, beat Dube Reith in the right corner, and despite fumbling the ball, Reith hit a three. Maybe it's Portland's night?

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Khris Middleton hit a pair of “nuh uh” threes and tried to put an end to that narrative as the quarter ended. But Anfernie Simons responded with her own answer. The scoring went back and forth. Again. Simmons hit a strong-safety pull-up in the lane with 2.9 seconds left to give Portland a 96-91 lead after three.

Fourth quarter

The start of the fourth game was semi-disastrous for Milwaukee. Turnover increased. They didn't hit a single shot in the first two minutes of the quarter. Malcolm Brockton made a transition layup and a half-court three in the same span to give the Blazers a 101-91 lead. Bucks head coach Doc Rivers called an emergency timeout to regroup and recover.

That replay included free throws on a hack for Giannis, followed by a Portland turnover and a Lillard three. The Bucks scored 5 points with 30 seconds left, forcing Billups to call an echo timeout for Portland. The Blazers led 101-95 with 8:57 remaining.

After that the game settled down a bit. Lillard struck again.

Then, in an “it only happens to Portland” moment, a loose ball appeared to go off the middle of Brook Lopez and out of bounds, but the officials didn't see what happened and ruled it a jump ball. Between Lopez and competing Ayden. Coach Billups challenged the call, but on replay the officials determined that the ball had actually bounced Anfernie Simons Thigh, meaning that Portland's challenge led to a less favorable outcome than the original missed call. Technically speaking, it was a successful challenge, so the Blazers retained the ability to argue another call later.

The Bucks didn't score in that game (thankfully), but Giannis converted a routine three-point play on their next play to leave the score 107-102, and Portland passed it midway through the final quarter.

Both teams focused on center scoring after that, with Ayden sending Lopez to the post and Lopez retaliating with a three. The scoring smorgasbord continued and no stone was left unturned. Whatever happened at the end of the game, the place seemed certain to burn down.

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Milwaukee scored first in the final four minutes. Malik Beasley converted a layup, followed by a Jeremy Grant jumper, then a short shot from Middleton. Portland trailed by 4, 113-109, with 3:09 left.

Coach Billups used his second and final challenge when Doumani Kamara fouled Lillard. Once again he won. But the ball bounced due to overturning. Bucks won the tip and Lopez hit another three, closing the gap to 113-112.

Grant hit a tough jumper over Lillard on the next possession. Later, Lopez missed a three as the Blazers used two men to deny Giannis the ball. Portland could not convert many shots in the next possession, then Lillard dunked, the score 115-114, Portland 1:13 remaining.

The Blazers turned the ball over on their next possession. Milwaukee saved the game's best defense for last. That gave the Bucs the ball with less than a minute left.

Lillard missed the next shot, but Milwaukee forced another turnover and Giannis Dam converted an alley-oop to finally put the Bucks ahead 116-115. But Anfernie Simons rebounded, hitting a floater to regain the single-point lead. Milwaukee ball, 17.6 seconds left.

Giannis set a huge screen for the inbound Lillard, freeing Dame for a moment. But Ayden chased him to the far post and then Malcolm Brockton threw a monkey wrench into the damn time clock to seal the three-point opportunity. Lillard passed to Lopez on the opposite side, but Brook missed the three. Brockton recovered. The Bucs called a foul (not shooting) and Portland called timeout, 117-116, with 5.6 seconds left.

Jeremy Grant scooped up an inbounds pass after the Bucs crowded Simons out of the opportunity. After the tag foul, Grant had two free throws. He put Portland up by two, 119-116, with 4.6 seconds left and no Milwaukee timeouts left.

Giannis received the inbounds, then Grant left him with 2.8 seconds left. He missed the first, intentionally missed the second for possession, and Brockton recovered it for the ballgame.


Stay tuned for an extended analysis coming soon!


The Blazers travel to the Mile High City to face the Denver Nuggets on Friday evening with a 6:00 PM Pacific opener.

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