The Portland Trail Blazers, playing without Damian Lillard, put forth a spirited effort in the first half Monday night at the Milwaukee Bucks before the game unraveled in the third quarter and they lost, 119-111, at Fiserv Forum.
The Blazers trailed 63-61 at halftime after shooting 55.6% against one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. But in the third quarter, the Bucks held Portland to 18 points on 25% shooting from the field. The Blazers missed all six of their three-point attempts and committed five turnovers while giving up 30 points.
Consequently, the Bucks led 93-79 entering the fourth quarter and the Blazers never got closer than eight points the rest of the way.
“Third quarter really, really hurt us,” Blazers coach Chauncey Billups told reporters. “In particular at the end. The last three or four minutes, it was rough. We struggled to really score. But I thought we came out and solidified ourselves again in the fourth quarter. Got ourselves back in the game but it was just too much to overcome.”
The Blazers’ offense figured to be challenged by the Bucks’ defense and not just because Lillard was in street clothes. Milwaukee entered the night leading the NBA in defensive rating (106.2) and was holding opponents to 44.3% shooting from the field, second lowest in the NBA.
Portland, which has now lost three consecutive games and four out of its last five, ended up shooting 47.3% from the field, including 26.7% from three-point range (8 of 30). Anfernee Simons led the Blazers with 29 points and five assists. He shot 12 of 23 from the field, but just 3 of 11 from long range. Josh Hart contributed 17 points and nine rebounds and Jusuf Nurkic added 16 points with 10 rebounds.
“We got pretty good production out everybody,” Billups said. “I thought that they all came to play. We gave ourselves a chance against a good team. Obviously, you’re missing a lot when Dame is out. Both sides of the floor, missing your leader out there. But for the most part, I thought it was a good effort.”
The Bucks shot 54.7% from the field thanks in large part to 56 points in the paint. Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with a game-high 37 points on 16-of-24 shooting, while adding seven rebounds and six assists.
“He’s tough,” Billups said of Antetokounmpo. “There’s certain things that you try to do that everybody tries to do. But he’s one of those guys that I just say, ‘If you hold him to around his average, somewhere, you did a pretty good job on him.’ Just don’t let them blow up and go crazy for the 50s.”
Milwaukee’s 119 points matches the season-high the Blazers allowed during a 119-98 loss to Miami on Oct. 26. The Blazers are 0-4 when they allow more than 112 points.
“We’ve been holding teams to a pretty low number for the majority of the season,” Simons told reporters. “I think they’ve got such versatile guys that can shoot at all times. When Giannis is on the court, they’ve got four other shooters that can make a shot from anywhere on the court. So, it’s tough playing a team like that.”
WHAT IT MEANS
There’s no shame in losing at Milwaukee (12-4), especially with Lillard out with a lower right leg injury. The Blazers (10-7) played well enough in three quarters to win. But the third quarter came down to poor shooting and an inability to control Antetokounmpo, who had 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting. Lillard will be reevaluated in one to two weeks.
IT WAS OVER WHEN
Hart hit a three to give Milwaukee a 109-101 lead with 4:31 remaining. But the Bucks pushed right back with an 8-2 run to take a 117-103 lead with 2:16 left.
The rookie started in place of Lillard and had a rough night, making just 1 of 9 shots and scoring as many points (two) as he had turnovers (two) in 25 minutes.
The Blazers visit Cleveland (11-6) on Wednesday at 4 p.m.
— Aaron Fentress | afentress@Oregonian.com | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook). Subscribe to Oregonian/OregonLive newsletters and podcasts