Blazers lose late to Bucks: There goes the 82-0 season

Blazers lose late to Bucks: There goes the 82-0 season

There was a lot to like Saturday night in Portland's first loss of the season at Milwaukee. But the few things not to like cost the Trail Blazers the game. Here;s the rundown:

  • Damian Lillard single-handedly brought Portland back from a late deficit. He got to the line and made good on 11 of 12 foul shots and hit three of his five three-point shots. CJ McCollum was very good, too. I'd like to have seen both of them get just a few more shots.
  • Turnovers were killer. Portland had 16 of them and the Bucks turned them into 22 points. Lillard had six of the turnovers, including the one late that was crucial. McCollum also had a late one, which was actually Giannis Antetokounmpo mugging him to knock the ball away in the key play of the game. Antetokounmpo scored 44 points and got a lot of credit for this win, but could easily have taken the blame for a loss after leaving two foul shots embarrassingly short, then fouling McCollum -- except that a foul wasn't called.
  • The Blazers continue to struggle in the paint. They're getting some good shots but not finishing. Jusuf Nurkic is very careless with a lot of his putbacks and short bank shots and it's costing him. The Trail Blazers made only 13 of 39 in the paint against the Bucks, which is far from an accepatble number.
  • I'd like to have seen a few double-teams on Antetokounmpo late in the game. Get the ball out of his hands, make somebody else shoot the ball.
  • The blocked shot on Nurkic at the end was a product of Nurkic not taking the ball strong, with two hands, directly to the basket. With Antetokounmpo coming at him, Nurkic switched the ball to his left (weaker) hand and tried to go around the block attempt. That's usually a bad idea. I can still remember Coach Jack Ramsay lecturing his Blazer players, "Take the ball AT the shot blocker, don't take it AWAY from him. It makes it easier for him when you pull it out away from your body." Nurkic would likely have at least drawn a foul if he'd gone strong to the rim.
  • Well, maybe he'd have drawn a foul. At that point in the game, it seemed difficult to get a foul called on a certain player from Greece.
  • Tough loss but just one gme. The thing is, though, you don't want to become that team that is mistake-prone late in games.

Trail Blazers' Jusuf Nurkic trying to find touch, rhythm after bumpy start

Trail Blazers' Jusuf Nurkic trying to find touch, rhythm after bumpy start

MILWAUKEE – Of all the good things that emerged during the Trail Blazers’ opening trip – and there were many – the play of center Jusuf Nurkic was curiously not among them.

Considered one of the pillars of the Blazers’ foundation alongside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, Nurkic was perhaps the team’s only unsteady element during an encouraging 2-1 trip to open the season.

If he wasn’t struggling with foul trouble or turnovers, Nurkic was missing close-range shots, or getting beat to rebounds, a frustrating and puzzling combination that came to a head when his driving attempt to win Saturday’s game at Milwaukee was blocked at the rim by Giannis Antetokounmpo in the final seconds.

 “I must be better, and I’m going to be,’’ Nurkic said. “It just takes time.’’

Why Nurkic feels he needs time is unclear. He was brimming with bravado

after a summer when he lost 34 pounds, and a training camp where he learned the Blazers’ full playbook. He followed that up with a promising preseason.

But in the first three games he has looked unsettled. He has been rattled by contact, beaten to rebounds, and unpolished inside, which has left him either complaining to officials or shaking his head in frustration on the court.

“I think obviously he is trying to figure some things out,’’ McCollum said.

Nurkic is averaging 13.0 points and 8.0 rebounds while hitting 16-of-37 shots (43.2 percent). He has six assists and 13 turnovers.

Lillard agreed that Nurkic was “having a little bit of a hard time” and excused it as only three games and perhaps a scheduling anomaly.

“We’ve been playing a little bit faster pace, and a lot of that has to do with first three teams played – (the opponents) play a faster pace so it’s been up and down,’’ Lillard said. “So it hasn’t been much throw it to him on the block. He’s been setting a lot more screens and running back (on defense) … it’s been a lot more fast paced than it was when he first got here.’’

Lillard also noted that Nurkic is processing a full playbook compared to last season, when Nurkic was given an abridged version after arriving from Denver in a February trade for the season’s final 20 games.

“It’s a lot of thinking for him right now,’’ LIllard said.

Certainly three games is no cause for alarm, and his teammates pointed to his strong second half at Milwaukee, when he rebounded from a 3-for-10 first half by hitting four of his last seven shots, finishing with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Also, Nurkic said he has been encouraged by his defense, which included a impressive block of Antetokounmpo at the rim in the second half, one of three in the game.

“I’m getting there,’’ Nurkic said. “Slow start. On defense I’m doing what I’m supposed to, effort and all those type things …’’

It is clear, however, that Nurkic is out of sorts. His midrange jumper has been steady, but inside he has been erratic, sometimes a victim of finger-roll finesse and other times just flat-out missing open layins.

When asked if his start is weighing on him, Nurkic shrugged.

“If I could make (shots), it would be different,’’ Nurkic said.  “Unfortunately, I’m missing, so I just have to get back to work and trust myself.’’

Nurkic twice referenced trusting himself, and he has appeared to hesitate at times, something that McCollum noticed.

“Obviously he is trying to figure out where he is going to get his touches from, and then trying to find his rhythm,’’ McCollum said.

That rhythm will come, his teammates are sure, because they have seen his body of work in practice.

“He’ll figure it out,’’ Evan Turner said. “Everybody gets frustrated, but it’s about the unit. At the end of the day, it’s whatever you have to do to win. He stepped up in the second half (at Milwaukee) and made some shots and played to his abilities, where he wasn’t too much thinking of how it was going to go. He just let the game come to him. When he doesn’t think about it, he is better.’’

Lillard, who more than anybody has Nurkic’s ear, said he too was encouraged by Nurkic’s second half in Milwaukee, and he will try to keep Nurkic filled with positive thoughts.

“He bounced back,’’ Lillard said. “We just want to keep pumping confidence in him, show that we believe in him and that he’s a big part of what we are doing. I don’t think anybody is worried. We have a lot of confidence in him and we expect good things from him.’’

So too, does Nurkic, who before leaving the Milwaukee locker room vowed to get over what has been a small bump to start the season.

 “I need to be more sure of what I do. Stay true to self and figure it out,’’ Nurkic said. “And I will figure it out.’’

Today's Blazers' links:

Damian Lillard let us know what he thought of one of Saturday's crucial late-game plays.

CJ McCollum offered his opinion of the key late-game play on social media. 

After his career night, Giannis Antetokounmpo had a special moment with game ball.

The Milwaukee Sentinel recaps Saturday's win by the Bucks ove the Blazers.

The Ringer is already declaring Antetokounmpo an MVP candidate.

Blazers lose heartbreaker to Bucks, fail to move into eighth

Blazers lose heartbreaker to Bucks, fail to move into eighth

The Trail Blazers had a chance to move into a tie for the eighth and final playoff spot Tuesday, but a young and athletic Milwaukee Bucks team stole their thunder with a 93-90 win at the Moda Center.

The Blazers didn’t score for the final 3:12 of the game, and still had a chance to send the game into overtime, but Damian Lillard missed a fade away three-pointer at the buzzer.

The game featured two of the NBA’s hottest teams, with each having won eight of their past 10, and each fighting for their playoff lives. Milwaukee (35-35) moved past Miami and into seventh in the Eastern Conference while Portland (32-38) fell one game behind Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West with 12 games remaining.

Lillard finished with 31 points and seven assists and CJ McCollum added 21 points. Jusuf Nurkic had 11 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks, but he also had four turnovers, including a crucial miscue with 1:28 when he lost the ball trying to post up and the Blazers trailing 93-90.

The Blazers are entering the homestretch of their season, with 10 of their final 13 at home, and coach Terry Stotts after last game said he wanted the Blazers to maintain the “edge” they played with while winning four of five on their recent trip.

Early on, the Blazers had that edge, building leads of 10-2 and 17-8, but an avalanche of turnovers and missed free throws enabled Milwaukee to stay in the game and eventually build leads as large as 15.

Portland stormed back in the third quarter behind the play of Lillard and a spark from Noah Vonleh, drawing within 67-63 entering the fourth.

The Blazers actually regained the lead in the fourth, going ahead 90-87 after a Lillard layin, but it would be the last time they scored. Milwaukee scored what turned out to be the game-winning basket with 2:16 left when Khris Middleton scored over Allen Crabbe inside. They added another basket with 1:39 left when John Henson scored on a rebound basket.

Middleton, who didn’t play this season until Feb. 8 because of a hamstring injury, had 26 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo added 22 points, eight rebounds and three assists. He scored 15 in the second quarter.  

Milwaukee took a 48-35 halftime lead after the Blazers’ played a second quarter that was among their worst of the month. Portland scored 14 points and made just 4-of-18 shots while still being plagued by the same sloppy turnovers that hurt them in the first quarter.

Notes: Lillard missed his first two free throws, ending stretch of 48 consecutive makes, which was the third longest streak in franchise history.

Next up: New York at Blazers, 7 p.m. (KGW)

Podcast:

A victory inside Blazers loss: Lillard, Stotts coax rare free throw violation from Bucks star

A victory inside Blazers loss: Lillard, Stotts coax rare free throw violation from Bucks star

MILWAUKEE – Damian Lillard and Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts played a role in coaxing a rare violation Wednesday against Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

With 10:49 left in the third quarter, Antetokounmpo was called for a 10-second violation by referee Gary Zielinski before shooting the second of two free throws.

“The first (free throw), I was like counting, because it was taking so long,’’ Lillard said.

He turned to Zielinski, a veteran referee in his 17th NBA season, and voiced his concern.

“And he looked at me like, ‘Nobody calls that,’’’ Lillard said.

Zielinski was stationed in front of the Blazers’ bench, and before the second free throw, Lillard and Stotts started counting aloud once Antetokounmpo was handed the ball.

“And we got up to like 13 before he called it,’’ Lillard said. “I think he didn’t want to call it just because we were saying something. But once we got to 13 … it was like, we were right. He made the right call.’’

It looked like a crucial call at the time as the Bucks were trailing 60-54. But it turned out to be about the only thing that didn’t go right for Milwaukee and Antetokounmpo in the third quarter.

The Bucks outscored Portland 34-18 in the third quarter and Antetokounmpo recorded 15 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists and four blocks -- his second triple double this season and seventh of his career.

A victory inside Blazers loss: Lillard, Stotts coax rare free throw violation from Bucks star

A victory inside Blazers loss: Lillard, Stotts coax rare free throw violation from Bucks star

MILWAUKEE – Damian Lillard and Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts played a role in coaxing a rare violation Wednesday against Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

With 10:49 left in the third quarter, Antetokounmpo was called for a 10-second violation by referee Gary Zielinski before shooting the second of two free throws.

“The first (free throw), I was like counting, because it was taking so long,’’ Lillard said.

He turned to Zielinski, a veteran referee in his 17th NBA season, and voiced his concern.

“And he looked at me like, ‘Nobody calls that,’’’ Lillard said.

Zielinski was stationed in front of the Blazers’ bench, and before the second free throw, Lillard and Stotts started counting aloud once Antetokounmpo was handed the ball.

“And we got up to like 13 before he called it,’’ Lillard said. “I think he didn’t want to call it just because we were saying something. But once we got to 13 … it was like, we were right. He made the right call.’’

It looked like a crucial call at the time as the Bucks were trailing 60-54. But it turned out to be about the only thing that didn’t go right for Milwaukee and Antetokounmpo in the third quarter.

The Bucks outscored Portland 34-18 in the third quarter and Antetokounmpo recorded 15 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists and four blocks -- his second triple double this season and seventh of his career.

Sloppy Blazers throw away game at Milwaukee

Sloppy Blazers throw away game at Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE -- The Trail Blazers literally threw away a chance to win their fourth straight on Wednesday, as a turnover-filled fourth quarter doomed Portland to a 115-107 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Portland (12-11) committed nine of their 16 turnovers in the fourth quarter, including miscues on their first three possessions of the final quarter, when they entered facing an 85-76 deficit. The Blazers had a nine point lead in the first quarter and a seven point halftime advantage, but fell apart in the third, when Milwaukee outscored them 34-18. 

The Blazers rallied late, cutting an 11-point deficit to 101-99 with 4:17 left when Allen Crabbe capped a string of three-pointers on three straight Portland possessions. But Matthew Dellavedova hit three floaters in the key and Jabari Parker dunked off an inbounds pass to seal the Bucks' win. 

Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo recorded his second triple-double of the season, finishing 15 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. Parker scored 13 of his 27 points in the first quarter and Dellavedova finished with 17 for Milwaukee (11-9), which won for the fifth time in six games. 

Damian Lillard led Portland with 30 points, 22 of them in the first half, and CJ McCollum added 23. Crabbe got hot late and finished with 14, nine of them in the fourth.

Milwaukee took control in the third quarter as Portland sputtered offensively to 18 points while the Bucks made five three-pointers. 

The Blazers took a 58-51 lead after closing the first half on a 12-2 run that was fueled by some hot shooting from Lillard. He hit four three-pointers in the final 4:23 of the second quarter and fed McCollum for another three with 6.9 seconds left in the half. This was the first time in 11 games the Blazers lost after leading at halftime.

Notes: Mason Plumlee, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds, became the fastest Trail Blazers player to have 150 rebounds and 100 assists (23 games) since Scottie Pippen did it in 22 games in the 1999-2000 season.

Next up: Blazers at Memphis, 5 p.m. Thursday (CSN).