It's no secret how much the Portland Trail Blazers mean to Damian Lillard, who spent his entire career there before being traded to the Milwaukee Bucks this past NBA off-season.
Wednesday marked the first time Lillard ever played against the Trail Blazers, and it was such an odd experience that he did not even know where the visitor's locker room was. The stage was certainly set for this to be an emotional matchup between the Bucks and Blazers.
Unfortunately, the Bucks simply could not get the job done, faltering in the clutch for the second consecutive game after a loss to the Denver Nuggets. Milwaukee had several chances late, but they simply failed to execute, and the result was a 119-116 defeat.
There were plenty of talking points following the game, which sent the Bucks into an 0-2 hole in the Doc Rivers era.
Good shot? Bad shot? Bucks fans debate after Lopez's late miss in loss to Blazers
The most significant bit of controversy during the game was a late 3-point attempt by Brook Lopez. Trailing by one point with about eight seconds left, Lopez heaved a step back 3-point attempt, but it missed. It wasn't the worst look in the world, but still, that's an incredibly difficult shot with the game on the line and the team only trailing by a single point - they didn't need a three.
Fans heavily debated after the game whether or not it was a good shot. Obviously, on a team with stars like Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo, people would have liked to see either of the stars get a look. Though he was having a rough outing to that point, Lillard had a chance to make a storybook-esque play had he taken a shot.
Lillard initially did have the basketball but passed to Lopez after good defense by Malcolm Brogdon. However, he did not get the basketball back despite being open once more, which many fairly believe he should have. Even if he is having a poor shooting night, Lillard should get the ball there. He's one of the best closers the game has ever seen.
If Lopez is going to take a shot there, a step-back 3-pointer was not the best look. There was time for him to put it on the floor and take it inside, where he would have had a chance for a better shot or an opportunity to go to the free throw line if a foul occurred.
Something similar happened earlier in the fourth. With 8:03 to play and the Bucks down by six points, Lopez looked off an open Lillard and let a triple fly, which he missed. To his credit, Lopez did make two threes following that. However, it felt like he wanted a heat-check, as he shot a step-back three once more with less than two minutes left that would have tied it. It missed. Then, the final shot happened.
Lopez should have the green light from deep, but the degree of difficulty of his final two 3-point tries was too great. To rub salt in the wound, Lillard would likely have had a better look on both attempts. Some were fine with the shot, as it wasn't a terrible look for Lopez. That last part is true, but under the circumstances the team was in, that was not the ideal scenario.
At the end of the day, the debate is one-sided, but there are arguments for both sides. Lopez himself said that upon watching the film, Lillard was more open than he initially thought. However, he still felt confident in that 3-point look.
Elsewhere, Giannis Antetokounmpo had a quality game with 27 points, eight rebounds, four assists, and three steals. However, he also tallied six turnovers, several of which were head-scratching fouls on the offensive side of the ball. Antetokounmpo just has to be smarter than what he displayed on several of those turnovers.
The same goes for Lillard, who had four turnovers of his own. On top of that, he shot just 9-of-25 from the floor, including a grueling 3-of-13 from three for 25 points. Again, those poor shooting numbers are among reasons why fans were somewhat fine with Lopez taking that shot. It was a tough month for Lillard, and the Bucks need him to flip the script in February.
On a more positive note, Khris Middleton looked great with 21 points and eight assists with a single turnover on 69.2 percent field goal shooting. He's looked much more like the Middleton of old as of late, and that's an incredibly positive sign for this team.
Meanwhile, a horrendous bench trend of every single reserve having a negative +/- rating continued. Bobby Portis had somewhat of an impact with 11 points and six boards, but his struggles on defense limited his output. Jae Crowder, Pat Connaughton, and Cameron Payne combined to score six points on 2-of-11 shooting. There are legitimate concerns about this bench.
Milwaukee had no answer to the youthful and athletic Blazers. Anfernee Simons had 24 points to lead Portland, as he was in a great groove all night. Plenty of those were simply tough buckets, especially a floater over Malik Beasley to give Portland the lead in the final seconds. Beasley played great defense on the possession, but Simons just hit a great shot.
Five other Blazers finished with double-digit points, including Deandre Ayton, who had 20 points as he attacked Brook Lopez all night long.
The 2024 NBA Trade Deadline is just one week away, and it will not be surprising if the Bucks' rumors heat up faily soon. This team could use a move.
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