November 21, 2018, 11:56 pm
Two of the league’s biggest surprises faced off Thanksgiving eve. Unfortunately for the Portland Trail Blazers, it’s the Milwaukee Bucks that will enter the holiday season looking far more like a true contender than early-season pretender. The Blazers, playing on the second leg of a back-to-back and nearing the end of a six-game, cross-country road trip, was dominated by the Bucks on Wednesday night, falling by the eye-popping score of 143-100 – the sixth-largest deficit in the history of the franchise.
Giannis Antetokounmpo was simply too big, too strong, too fast, too long and too skilled for Portland from the opening tip. In an absolutely ringing endorsement of his MVP chances, Milwaukee’s superstar finished with 33 points, 16 rebounds, nine assists, and three steals on 13-of-20 shooting. The Bucks scored a whopping 72 points in the paint, a seeming majority of which resulted directly from drives by Antetokounmpo, whether by layup, dunk or kick-out pass that led to open opportunities elsewhere. He was a monster on the other end, too, routinely blowing up Portland’s offense with aggressive weak-side help. He created two turnovers by Lillard alone, first jumping in front of a cross-court pass while the Blazers star attacked, then digging down from one pass away to deflect a dish to Nurkic, finishing the play with a dunk in transition.
On this night, the ball often just bounced Milwaukee’s way, too. One of Antetokounmpo’s several rim-rattling dunks came after Malcolm Brogdon air-balled an open corner three-point so badly that Moe Harkless, back in the lineup and starting the second half, misjudged the carom, leading to a loose ball.
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) November 22, 2018
Antetokounmpo also drained multiple jumpers, too, including this smooth fadeaway to cap a first half the Bucks won 72-50.
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) November 22, 2018
Despite shooting a pedestrian 15-of-45 from 3-point range, Milwaukee rung up 34 assists. The Bucks, taking full advantage of a weary Portland team, went an incredible 34-of-45 from the restricted area. They pulled down 13 offensive rebounds and scored 22 fast-break points, too. This was one of the most complete offensive performances a team has put together this season, absent efficient jump-shooting or otherwise.
Unfortunately, defense was hardly the Blazers’ only issue on Wednesday night. Frustrated by Milwaukee’s length and activity for 48 minutes, Portland shot 36.6 percent from the field and just 9-of-42 from the three-point line. Al-Farouq Aminu missed 12 of his 13 shots and all nine of his tries from deep, several of which came without a defender in arm’s length – at the Bucks’ design. Assists are inherently hard to come by when jumpers aren’t falling, but the Blazers total of ’13 dimes, their lowest of the season, was indicative of something more. Portland was coerced into tricky shots from mid- and floater-range throughout this game, and sometimes even lacked the burst to produce those low-efficient looks at all.
Damian Lillard, true to form, refused to succumb to the inevitabilities of another loss. A sizable share of his 13 free-throw attempts came with this game essentially decided. Jusuf Nurkic kept fighting, too, using his size advantage on the interior to bully his way through and pivot his way around Bucks defenders. With the exception of a typically productive night from C.J. McCollum, though, the road-tired Blazers just didn’t have anything else going.
Reminder: The Bucks have been the best team in basketball this season. They entered Wednesday’s play with a +10.6 net rating, a mark that would have comfortably led the league last season. Milwaukee also got off to slow starts in their last two games, comeback wins over the Chicago Bulls and Denver Nuggets, and stressed the importance of getting off to a good start against the Blazers. Mission accomplished, as Mike Budenholzer’s team bursted out to a 24-7 lead in the first quarter.
The Blazers took care of business on Tuesday, going shot-for-shot with the lottery-bound New York Knicks to eek out a win in crunch time. A victory 24 hours later, again in hostile territory opposite a team with the second-best record in the NBA, would have been something close to shocking. For a veteran group like Portland, a loss is a loss accompanied by extenuating circumstances like these; the margin need not matter.
Stotts, thankfully, pulled his starters after the third quarter, opening the final stanza with Anfernee Simons and Wade Baldwin on the floor. As the Blazers’ coach made clear: Time to focus on Friday’s tilt in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors.
April 20, 2019, 12:40 amPaul George - F - Oklahoma City Thunder
Paul George labored through a 3-for-16 shooting night to score 22 points (14-for-17 from the free throw line), six assists, six rebounds and two threes on Friday.
Friday's game marked the second time in three games that George has struggled with his shot, adding to the speculation that his right shoulder injury is holding him back. Fortunately for Oklahoma City, he stayed aggressive attacking the basket and was able to chip in 14 points from the charity stripe as well as his customary lockdown defense down the stretch.
April 20, 2019, 12:36 amJerami Grant - F - Oklahoma City Thunder
Jerami Grant scored 18 points on 6-for-7 shooting also contributing four threes and two blocks in Friday's win over the Blazers.
Grant caught fire at the perfect time as the shooting woes that plagued Oklahoma City in the first two games disappeared on Friday night. He was one of five teammates to make two or more threes as Oklahoma City was able to cruise to a victory.
April 20, 2019, 12:32 amDennis Schroder - G - Oklahoma City Thunder
Dennis Schroder logged 32 minutes with 17 points, six assists, five rebounds, two triples and two steals on Friday night.
Shroder and the Oklahoma City guards were able to exploit Enes Kanter routinely in this one as the steady diet of points ultimately led to them notching their first win of the season. This group is much more confident at home – look for the same intensity as they attempt to even the series at two games apiece on Sunday night.
April 20, 2019, 12:27 amDamian Lillard - G - Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard had 32 points, six assists, three triples and two steals as the Blazers fell to the Thunder by a score of 108-120 on Friday night.
Lillard went back and forth with Russell Westbrook all night as the home team once again prevailed in this series. The animosity between these two makes for very entertaining competition. Expect Lillard to come out firing on Sunday as Portland has another opportunity to steal one on the road.
April 20, 2019, 12:19 amCJ McCollum - G - Trail Blazers
CJ McCollum did a little of everything on Friday night with 21 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, five threes and one steal.
After missing the end of the season for Portland with a left knee injury, McCollum is consistently posting huge lines in the playoffs.McCollum's play is a big reason why Portland is leading 2-1 in this series. Look for another strong night on Sunday in Game 4.
April 20, 2019, 12:12 amEnes Kanter - C - Trail Blazers
Enes Kanter scored 19 points on 9-of-14 shooting while adding five rebounds on Friday night.
Kanter had a good night scoring the basketball, despite a nagging right hand injury. Unfortunately for Portland, any good done by his offensive performance was undone on the defensive end as he was frequently targeted by the Oklahoma City offense and failed to offer much resistance.
April 19, 2019, 11:43 pmKyrie Irving - G - Boston Celtics
Kyrie Irivng contributed 19 points, 10 assists, five rebounds, three threes, one steal and one block in Friday's 104-96 victory in Indiana.
Irving has been sensational so far in the playoffs for Boston looking locked in and focused on setting up his teammates as he's notched at least seven assists in every game so far. After a season that led many to question his loyalty to this team it's good to see Irving step up and lead Boston.
April 19, 2019, 11:38 pmJaylen Brown - F - Boston Celtics
Jaylen Brown was a man possessed Friday night as he scored 23 points on 8-of-9 shooting adding seven rebounds, four threes and one block.
Indiana had no answer for the third-year swingman who got whatever he wanted and finally took advantage of his opportunity to start for the injured Marcus Smart. Brad Stevens remained patient after Brown struggled in the first two games of the series and was rewarded with a big night as Boston looks to sweep Indiana on Sunday.
April 19, 2019, 11:31 pmAl Horford - F/C - Boston Celtics
Al Horford had 16 points, eight rebounds, four assists, three threes, one steal and one block on Friday night.
Horford continues to provide Boston with a little bit of everything they need to win as evidenced by his plus-13, which was tied for a team-best mark. After struggling a bit in Game 2 as he shook off an illness, this statistical output was more in line with what we're used to seeing.
April 19, 2019, 11:25 pmJayson Tatum - F - Boston Celtics
Jayson Tatum scored 18 points on 8-of-16 shooting while adding seven rebounds and a three-pointer on Friday night.
Tatum has shot at least 50 percent in every playoff game for Boston so far and his steady scoring output is helping them close in on a first-round series sweep. Look for the good times to continue to roll next time Tatum takes the floor on Sunday.