If only the Blazers could play every game at home against teams with losing records. After last night’s relatively easy handling of the Milwaukee Bucks, the Blazers have now won five straight in the confines of the Moda Center against some mediocre competition. Five straight! Watch out Warriors, watch out ‘96 Bulls—Portland is this close to being .500 again.
That’s not to discredit what this team is doing, because this might be the best stretch of basketball they’ve had all year. But, come on, the Lakers won a game at home last night so how hard could it actually be? With quiet determination, the Blazers just keep on rolling for that pre-All Star game playoff push.
This run hasn’t been about the snubbed Damian Lillard going bonkers and putting the team on his back. Portland is getting contributions from everyone across the board, everyone doing just enough in their own well-defined role. Coach Stotts has this basketball machine humming.
The Bucks are killers in the paint, and lead the league by scoring nearly 50 points a game near the rim. On a night where Mason Plumlee was in foul trouble and Noah Vonleh was lost to a sprained ankle in the third quarter, Portland’s defense held up without their two big men starters.
Al-Farouq Aminu got the scoring started early with a couple of timely triples. The Bucks defense doubled both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum pretty aggressively, leaving Farouq Assault by himself on nearly every play. With his first couple of makes, that was that.
The Blazers also did a nice job of attacking the rim (read: Greg Monroe) whenever possible. Both McCollum and Dame feasted off easy layups. Lillard’s shot chart was especially wonky—he finished the night 6-15 from the floor, but all of those makes were at the rim. He didn’t hit an outside shot all night, including 0-6 from deep. His facilitating was on point though, notching 12 assists plus a couple of extra hockey assists that don’t show up in the box score.
It wasn’t until midway through the third quarter that this one started to feel like a game. After going down by a fourteen early, the Bucks battled back with some solid perimeter defense. The Bucks are nothing if not a bunch of lanky dudes with long arms, and those arms did some damage in the passing lanes. Portland coughed the ball over too many times, Jabari Parker had a couple of nice transition dunks, and Jerryd Bayless was a Paul Allen nightmare come to life as he started the game 6-6 from the floor and couldn’t miss.
Though Milwaukee was able get it to within two, the Blazers opened things up with just a few minutes gone in the fourth. Gerald Henderson destroyed a massive two-handed putback dunk off of a McCollum miss. CJ then blocked a Jabari Parker jumper (!!) and took it the length of the court for an easy layup. The Bucks missed their next shot, and CJ found Henderson in the corner for three. A quick 7-0 run, just like that, and Portland had pushed their lead to 15. Milwaukee was forced to take a timeout.
After missing 15 of his first 20 shots, Khris Middleton answered with a 7-0 run himself to cut the lead back down to eight but that was as close as the Bucks would get it. Gerald Henderson was just too much late—he scored 13 points in the fourth quarter on a perfect 6-6 shooting and seemed to be everywhere on the court at once. It’s not often his name is mentioned, but Henderson was the difference. Rebounding, defense—he sparked the final push to put the game away for good.
When Gerald wasn’t pouring it on, CJ was filling in the gaps. McCollum had a monster game, going 10-18 from the field for the fifth 30-point game of his career. The Bucks were gunning for him, and dude made it look easy. CJ always seems like he’s a half-step from losing the ball, dribbling too far in front of him like an eight-year old practicing with their off hand, but somehow he manages to make it work.
In the end, Portland finished things off with some token Chris Kaman minutes and a 107-95 victory. Milwaukee has a star in the making in Giannis Antetokounmpo, but future stars do make present success. Much like Minnesota last game with Karl-Anthony Towns, the Bucks have a bright future ahead but their present ain’t much to sneeze at. Next up is the true test of this win streak: a battle against the red hot and rolling Toronto Raptors.