Shorthanded Trail Blazers Keep It Close In Loss To Bucks

by Casey Holdahl
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MILWAUKEE -- Severely undermanned Thursday night versus the Bucks, the Trail Blazers had to rely on three-point shooting and teamwork to give themselves even a chance of hanging with the Bucks Thursday night in Milwaukee.

The gambit almost worked.

Playing without Damian Lillard (back spasm) and Hassan Whiteside (right hip), the Blazers shot 44 percent from three, tallied 32 assists on 50 made shots and trailed by just one possession in fourth quarter before falling 137-129 to the Bucks in front of a sellout crowd of 17,385 Thursday night at Fizerv Forum.

"I was very proud of the way we competed," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stott. "Offensively, I thought we played in a really good rhythm, 32 assists has got to be our season high. The way we came back after getting down early was pretty impressive from our standpoint. But they're a really good team, Giannis (Antetokounmpo) is a great player and we made some mistakes at the end, but overall, I liked the way we played."

The Trail Blazers are now 5-11 overall and 4-6 away from the Moda Center this season. Portland has now lost three-straight and nine of their last 11.

With a starting lineup of CJ McCollum, Gary Trent Jr, Rodney Hood, Carmelo Anthony and Anthony Tolliver, the Trail Blazers got off to a slow start Thursday night. That wasn't the case for the Bucks, a team playing the second game of a back-to-back after besting the Hawks in Atlanta Wednesday night, with the home team making their first seven shots and taking an 11-point lead before four minutes had elapsed in the game.

But behind shooting from Tolliver and Trent Jr, the Trail Blazers found their footing over the next few minutes, going on a 10-0 run to get back into the contest.

The Bucks pushed back, taking their largest lead of the night 51-36 after two Ersan Ilyasova free throws with 7:23 to play in the first half. It didn't improve much for the Blazers by the intermission, as they found themselves down 72-58 at the break, even with center Skal Labissiere going 5-of-9 from the field and grabbing five rebounds in the quarter.

Down 14 on the road against the top team in the East and with the players available, one could be forgiven for assuming that watching the second half wasn't worth the trouble.

However, the Blazers came out firing to start the second half, going 6-of-11 from three in the third to outscore the Bucks by 15 in the quarter. McCollum, the only regular Trail Blazers starter in the lineup Thursday night, put the team on his back, going 6-of-8 from the field and 2-of-2 from three for 14 points in the quarter.

But eventually, Milwaukee would show their mettle. After a McCollum three-pointer cut the lead to two with 7:35 to play, Brook Lopez and Wesley Matthews answered with back-to-back threes to calm a nervous home crowd. Milwaukee eventually push the lead back to 14, helping in part by a considerable edge in both rebounding and second-chance points, before doing just enough to secure the eight-point victory.

“I thought we competed. I like how we played hard," said McCollum. "Obviously, we came up short, but I thought it was a step in the right direction. We moved the ball, we defended in the fourth quarter. The biggest thing we have to tighten up is our rebounding. It’s been our kryptonite these last few games and throughout the season. It’s hard enough to get stops in this league, but when you give them second chances, it makes it that much more difficult."

McCollum led all players with 37 points on 15-of-29 shooting from the field, 5-of-10 shooting from three to go with 10 assists, six rebounds and three steals in 38 minutes.

Labissiere also finished with a double-double of 22 points and 12 rebounds while also blocking five shots and handing out three assists in 28 minutes off the bench.

"(Labissiere) was great, he was aggressive, he had 22 points, 12 rebounds and some blocked shots," said McCollum He showed us what we all know he can do. We’ve seen it in practice. We’ve seen his skill. It’s just about mentally locking in and understanding what he’s capable of."

Anthony, in just his second game as a Trail Blazer, went 6-of-16 from the field and 3-of-5 from three for 18 points to go with seven rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes.

"I’m well rested man," said Anthony when asked about his conditioning Thursday night. "I’ve been out for a year. I take care of my body, I take care and do what I have to do. I feel good. I’m going to feel good from here on out.”

Trent Jr. added 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field and 3-of-4 shooting from three and Rodney Hood went a perfect 5-of-5 from the field for 11 points in 30 minutes.

Nassir Little rounded out Portland's double-digit scorers with 12 points on 3-of-5 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 shooting from three.

The Bucks had six players finish in double figures led by 30 points on 11-of-21 shooting. Antetokounmpo logged a triple-double with 24 points, 19 rebounds and 15 assists. Pat Connaughton, who played his first two seasons in Portland, went 7-of-10 from the field for 18 points off the bench.

Next up, the Trail Blazers head to Cleveland to face the Cavaliers on Saturday in the fifth game of a six-game trip. Tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m.

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