Another Rally Falls Short
By mikebarrett Posted in: Bucks
There is so much that happened at the end of this game, in crunch time, that spelled Portland's doom against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night at the Rose Garden. They once again mounted a huge charge, fell victim to a bad missed call by the officials, couldn't get Milwaukee to miss enough free throws. But, it's pretty clear when this game was lost, and it wasn't at the end. It was in the first quarter. If that sounds pretty familiar, it's because it is. That's exactly what happened Wednesday night against Cleveland.
In fact, it wasn't even the entire first quarter that decided this game. It was a crippling 2:37 stretch during the opening 12 minutes that put Portland in a hole they'd spend the rest of the game trying to get over.
Let's first give Milwaukee a little credit. Like Cleveland, they came in with a solid game plan, and brought a ton of energy defensively early in the game. They wanted to pressure Portland's point guard, bang the boards, and execute their offense. They did all three.
But, even with that short mission accomplished, it was just 15-12 Bucks when Damian Lillard went to the bench to take his first break. When he came back into the game, just 2:37 later, the score was 29-12 and the damage was done.
The Bucks put up 30 points in the first quarter, and 32 in the second. They took a 15-point lead to the locker room at halftime, and that lead quickly swelled to 22 early in the third. But, knowing this Portland team, we knew a rally was coming. The Blazers turned up the defense with 5 minutes left in the third. Down 77-55, the Blazers started their run. By the end of the quarter Milwaukee's lead was down to 8, at 84-76.
The Bucks, like the Cavs did Wednesday, did continue to do just enough to answer Portland's push in the fourth quarter. But, thanks to a Wesley Matthews three pointer with just 44.7 second left, the Blazers had cut it to 104-100.
Then, came the call. Or, more accurately, the non-call. The Blazers had an inbounds play set where LaMarcus Aldridge would get the ball on the left block and go for a quick two. Instead, his foot was clearly stepped on, and down he went. The ball sailed out of bounds and was given to the Bucks. It doesn't sound like much, but this was a foul that should have resulted in Aldridge shooting two free throws and Portland with an opportunity to make it a two-point game.
But, as I said earlier, when you put yourself in a position to depend on a late call to get back in a game, it's a tough way to live. They just had no margin for error at that point, and that's been the case lately for this team.
It turned into a free-throw shooting contest from there, and the Bucks won it by a final of 110-104. It's Portland's fifth-straight loss. All five have been decided by 6 points or less. In fact, the Blazers have now played 9-straight games decided by 6 or less. That's never happened in franchise history.
Just over a week ago, we were marveling about Portland's record in games decided by 6 or less. Now, it's become a painful stat, and an unsettling trend. Dropping close games does just as much damage to the confidence as winning close games benefits it.
Aldridge took just 14 shots on Wednesday, and attempted only 12 in this game. To his credit, he still ended with 20 points and 14 rebounds. JJ Hickson also had a double-double, his 23rd of the season, with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Lillard, who kept Portland from really getting blown out in the first half, had 26 points and 10 assists, also recording a double-double.
So, adjustments will be attempted again, and the Blazers will be back at it on Monday night against the surging Washington Wizards. They're playing very solid basketball right now, and nearly pulled the upset over the Clippers in L.A. on Saturday night.
They usually say the only time you need to watch an NBA game is in the final minutes. Monday, I think it's clear the most important stretch of that game will be in the opening minutes.
That's where the last two have been lost.