PORTLAND – It took five extra minutes, but the Portland Trail Blazers moved to 44-24 on the season and 25-9 at home with a 120-115 overtime victory versus the Milwaukee Bucks Tuesday night at the Moda Center.
“I’m glad I’m standing here after a win instead of a loss,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Give Milwaukee a lot of credit. They’ve had a long seasons, Larry (Drew) has done a great job of keeping them competing and playing hard. They played a great game and certainly don’t want to take anything away from what they did, they played hard the whole game. That being said, we didn’t come out with the urgency that we needed … We understand that we were very fortunate to win the game tonight.”
The Trail Blazers improve to 8-1 this season against the Eastern Conference Central Division, including a 5-0 sweep at home and now have a 20-4 record against the Eastern Conference, the best mark of any West team against the East this season.
Tuesday night’s contest had all the excitement you would expect from a midweek game versus the team with the NBA’s worst record, which is to say it was a low-energy affair from the start. The Trail Blazers committed four turnovers in the first three minutes and missed seven of their first 12 shots against a team ranked 23rd in the league in points allowed per game.
The lone bright spot in the first quarter came courtesy of Nicolas Batum, who scored 11 of Portland’s first 13 points and ended the quarter with 16 points on 6 of 8 shooting from the field and 2 of 3 shooting from three. His teammates combined to go 5 of 15 from the field while the Bucks shot 52 percent from the field to take a 29-26 lead into the second quarter.
“Nic kept us afloat in the first half,” said Stotts. “We didn’t have a lot of offense really going in the first half. He was making his jump shots, he was looking to be aggressive. I hope that makes everybody happy since everybody wants Nic to be aggressive. We needed his offense in the first half. He continues to fill in the gaps.”
The Bucks cooled down in the second quarter, though it was hard to tell if that was due to Portland’s improved defense or their own regression. Milwaukee shot just 6 of 20 on the way to scoring just 18 points in the second quarter. The Trail Blazers were still playing sloppy, as evidenced by five more turnovers in the quarter, but Mo Williams hit all four of his shots, including two three-pointers to score 10 in the second and help Portland take a 52-47 lead into the halftime intermission.
“(Williams) kind of steadied the ship in the first half when the bench guys, the reserves were out there,” said Stotts. “We need Mo. For him to be able to come in and play the minutes he’s playing and be as effective, that’s why we got him here.”
In the second half and overtime it was Wesley Matthews who would save the Trail Blazers from what would have been their worst loss of the season. After scoring just five points on 2 of 6 shooting in the first half, Matthews came alive in the second. The 6-5 guard out of Marquette snapped out of a mini shooting slump to go 4 of 6 from the field and 3 of 3 from three to finish regulation with 20 points. He would add six in the overtime to finish with a game-high 26 while also adding two assists, two rebounds and two steals in 41 minutes.
“I’m taking the same shots I’ve been shooting, they just happened to fall tonight,” said Matthews. “Just continue to attack, get to the free throw line and put pressure on the defense that way. I’m not going to change anything I’m doing. I still feel like every shot that I shoot is supposed to go in and I’m going to continue to play that way.”
Even with Matthews picking up where Williams and Batum left off, Portland trailed the Bucks, a team with just 13 victories this season, 98-96 with nine seconds to play in regulation. That was actually a lucky position for the Trail Blazers to be in considering Milwaukee guard Ramon Sessions, a career 80 percent free throw shooter, went 2 of 4 from the line in the final 18 seconds of the fourth quarter.
With the game on the line, the Trail Blazers looked to Damian Lillard, despite having shot 3 of 14 from the field at the time, to take the final shot. Despite having a layup attempt thwarted in his last drive, Lillard went right back to the rim and was able to get the roll to tie the game at 98-98 with four seconds to play.
“We were down two and we spaced the floor out and let me go isolation,” said Lillard. “It didn’t really make sense for me to settle for a jumper when we were only down two and I felt like I could get to the rim.”
Sessions would take and miss a three as time expired to send the game to overtime.
From there, it was all Lillard, Matthews and Williams. The guard trio combined for all of Portland’s 22 points in the overtime period led by 10 points on 3 of
6 shooting from the field and 4 of 4 shooting from the free throw line from Lillard.
“I got some good looks,” said Lillard. “I missed one when they went in the zone. They had a blown coverage and I had a good look. I had another kickout that was a really good look. Wes hit me in the corner, that was a good look. Nic swung me one in the corner earlier and I had a good look. It was just, the ball wasn’t going in. They felt good coming off my hands. I just wanted to stay with it. I knew it would come a point in the game where I knew I would need to make a shot or I was going to need to do something. I didn’t have my greatest shooting night but we won the game and when the game was on the line, I was able to find a way to get it done.”
The Bucks would get 10 points in the overtime period from forward Khris Middleton, but his teammates could also muster seven points, allowing the Trail Blazers to escape with a five-point victory.
“Tonight we were happy with the win – we’re always going to take a win, ugly, pretty, it doesn’t matter,” said Matthews. “But we’re not happy with the way that we played. Credit them, they played hard. We knew they were going to do that. Since the trade deadline, they’ve been a pretty good offensive team but that doesn’t excuse our performance. We’ve got to come out with urgency because every game matters for us and that’s how we’ve got to play going into the post season.”
Batum did almost all of his scoring in the first half and focused on distributing in the second to finish with a near triple-double of 21 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in 44 minutes. Williams ended the night with 23 points on 7 of 12 shooting and three assists. Lillard, though he shot just 1 of 11 from the three point line, managed to score 20 points while handing out four assists.
Robin Lopez rounded out the starters with yet another double-double of 15 points and 14 rebounds in 37 minutes.
Next up, the Trail Blazers host the Wizards Thursday at the Moda Center before heading out on yet another five-game road trip. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 PM.