(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

It looked for a moment, a number of moments actually, like the Milwaukee Bucks would cruise to their first substantial win since a drubbing of the Detroit Pistons on January 29. A 27 point halftime lead like the Bucks had over the Portland Trail Blazers Tuesday night will usually give fans and players that feeling.

Perhaps it let the Bucks get a little too comfortable.

From the outset of the second  half, Portland played more physical and determined than the Bucks. It resulted in a 20 point second half advantage.

Good thing that halftime lead was 27.

Outside of one quarter, Milwaukee didn’t do much to restore its defensive reputation. After the game, Jim Boylan talked about some of their issues, specifically about how well they contested shots in Portland’s eight point second quarter and how poorly they did that the rest of the game:

“A big key to having a successful defense is to contest shots,” Boylan said after the game. “That’s been what we’ve been preaching over the last couple of days, to try to get that number back up. We chart it every game, we like to be above 75 percent. Recently we’ve been down in the sixties and, on occasion, even in the fifties.”

Boylan went on to talk about the difficulties of keeping motivated up 27 points and how it may have affected the Bucks in the second half, where the Blazers put up a 38 point fourth quarter. He said it was on him to make sure the guys were prepared, but I think that’s just a coach taking the fall for his guys. If players can’t be motivated enough to even CONTEST threes, that’s a pretty big problem. It says that defense isn’t really a priority for them.

Portland Trail Blazers 95 Final
Recap | Box Score
102 Milwaukee Bucks
Samuel Dalembert, C 20 MIN | 8-14 FG | 0-0 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 16 PTS | +2

His soft touch was working well early, as he scored 10 points in the first quarter, mostly off jumpers. But after nine first quarter minutes, Dalembert played just 11 the rest of the game. Jim Boylan noted after the same that he did look to get his backup, and occasionally starting, center some rest with another game against the Hawks Wednesday.

Larry Sanders, C 40 MIN | 4-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 13 REB | 3 AST | 2 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | -5

LaMarcus Aldrdige is a handful and Larry struggled with him in the pick and roll game. Bucks guards have got to get better at fighting through screens so forwards or centers can’t get quite as much free space when Sanders has to step up against ball-handlers in pick and rolls. He had some success shooting short, open jumpers in those scenarios and was able to roll to the hoop for some easy pick and roll looks that Larry had little help on.

Monta Ellis, PG 44 MIN | 8-18 FG | 3-6 FT | 9 REB | 8 AST | 3 STL | 3 BLK | 2 TO | 21 PTS | +7

Before an injury to his left hand stifled him, Monta was putting together another fine offensive fourth quarter. He hit both threes he attempted and a two point jumper to go along with the pair. Of course, he had nothing for Wesley Matthews, so that was a problem.

Brandon Jennings, PG 39 MIN | 9-20 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 7 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 6 TO | 24 PTS | -3

Once Ellis hurt his hand, Jennings took the scoring load, dropping in seven fourth quarter points for Milwaukee. He did have two turnovers within the final two minutes that could have been very costly though. But he defended Damian Lillard very well all game, applying plenty of pressure all the way down the court.

Gustavo Ayon, PF 6 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | +12

When Ayon plays, he doesn’t do much wrong. He’s a fantastic passer for a big man. He demonstrated his passing prowess when Monta drove to the hoop and laid it off to him. Instead of tossing up what would have been a moderately difficult short shot, he immediately kicked out to a wide open JJ Redick for three. Really fun to watch.

J.J. Redick, SG 26 MIN | 4-8 FG | 4-5 FT | 0 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 14 PTS | +12

14 points on eight shots is everything the Bucks ask of Redick. He shot the ball well and gave them another threat on offense late. But it would be foolish to overlook the correlation between Milwaukee’s BRUTAL fourth quarter defense and the presence of Jennings/Ellis/Redick on the court for much of that time.

Three Things We Saw

  1. Portland made 13-of-26 threes, 10-of-17 in the second half, when Wes Matthews and Luke Babbit bombed away with no defender near them time after time.
  2. Milwaukee moved the ball well again. They’ve done this enough on offense lately that their willingness to share the ball isn’t even really a thought anymore. They have a very good rhythm on offense and it’s predicated on moving the ball and making shots. They have players who can do both and are doing both on most nights.
  3. Ellis injured the fleshy part of his left hand, between his thumb and index finger. X-rays were negative and they’ll look at it again today.