The Bucks nearly crumbled, but held on to a diminishing lead just long enough to preserve their best road trip in a decade.
Milwaukee beat Portland, 110-104. Brandon Jennings earned every bit of 30 points, eight assists, and three steals as he makes a late push to get selected as an All-Star reserve.
Ilyasova looked comfortable in the offense, finishing with 27 points, 14 rebounds, and four assists.
The Bucks had a 15-point advantage at halftime, and Ersan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders came out with a ton of energy inside to start the second half as Milwaukee pushed the lead to 77-55. But Luke Babbitt followed with two three-pointers shortly thereafter, then the momentum switched for good when Sanders was ejected with just over three minutes left in the third quarter.
Milwaukee’s problems compounded when they got the ball left with 29 seconds left in the third. Monta Ellis pounded out the shot clock and missed a three-pointer. The Blazers countered with a Damian Lillard straight-on, running three-pointer to cut the lead to eight.
Lillard (26 points, 10 assists) was a thorn in the Bucks’ side all night, but Jennings shot back with two stepback jump shots and a runner in the fourth quarter when Milwaukee’s offense was stalling badly.
Then, with Jennings pressuring the ballhandler, Mike Dunleavy jumped in to steal a pass, then fed Jennings a pass to set up a three-point play that put the Bucks ahead by 16 with 3:45 left.
From there, the Bucks limped home with a slew of ugly three-point attempts, followed by just enough defense and free throws to hold onto a hemorrhaging lead.
Jennings, Ilyasova, and Lillard each scored 15 points in the first half.
The Bucks pressured the ball in the first quarter and seized every opportunity that they could to trap the ball. Defense turned into easy baskets, which in turn settled the Bucks into a comfort zone in their half court offense. Ellis had five steals in the game, four in the first half.
By the time the starters came back in to finish the second quarter, Jennings was probing the paint patiently and weighing his options carefully. On one play, he hesitated in the lane with a dribble just long enough for Dunleavy to come open at the top for a three-point shot.
On another, he found Sanders rolling to the hoop for a dunk. (Sanders missed it, but Jennings ran the play perfectly.)
On a third, he probed the paint, took the ball back out, reset after an exchange with Ilyasova, and charged back in. He scored on a floater and drew the foul, too.
The Bucks found great looks for Dunleavy and Ilyasova in the first half. The pair combined to hit 4-of-5 three-point attempts on well-squared shots.
Not sure how many times ‘ball pressure’ is mentioned above, but it was key to the periods when the Bucks did well. For example:
A few tweets:
Bucks guards penetrating – not popping 3s – built the lead. Let’s get back to that. #GoBucksGo
— Cassandra Polansky (@the_cpsn) January 20, 2013
Nic’s last turnover is a direct result of Larry Sanders blocking his shot in the first half. I’d be scared too.
— Rip City Project (@ripcityproject) January 20, 2013
When Ersan smiles, America smiles.
— Eric Buenning (@ericbuenning) January 20, 2013
Bucks are the drunk guy who had a good night, stayed too long, and are now stumbling to get out the door. Need a friend to put them in a cab
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) January 20, 2013
A win would give the Bucks 3 wins on the same road trip for the 1st time since Mar. 31-Apr. 8, 2001 (3-3 on a 6-gm trip). #MILvPOR
— Bucks PR (@BucksPR) January 20, 2013