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)