April 15, 2021

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Bucks vs. Blazers takeaways: Giannis Antetokounmpo ties Wilt Chamberlain record in dominant win

5 min read

The Milwaukee Bucks and Portland Trail Blazers rarely race off, and that’s a good thing for Damian Lillard and his squad. The last time the two met, the Bucks ran the Blazers off of the floor, 134-106, and Portland hasn’t beaten the Bucks since Nov. 2018. Friday was no different. In a game that wasn’t particularly close, the Bucks left Portland with a 127-109 victory. 

The victory moved the Bucks to 31-17 on the season. They remain three games behind the Brooklyn Nets in the standings, but as they trail by only two in the loss column, home-court advantage isn’t off the table quite yet. The Blazers, meanwhile, slip to sixth in the Western Conference behind the Denver Nuggets. The injury-riddled Lakers give them some room to jump, but with the Nuggets surging, Portland is going to need to step up if it plans to earn a top-four seed this postseason. Here are the biggest takeaways from Milwaukee’s victory. 

Giannis and Wilt

Giannis Antetokoumpo won the All-Star Game MVP award by shooting 16-of-16 from the field. That was obviously impressive, but few paid it much mind. It was the All-Star Game, after all. Nobody was playing defense. Contrary to what Portland’s 29th-ranked defensive rating would have you believe, the Blazers actually do try to play defense. It just didn’t matter on Friday. Giannis missed all three of his 3-point attempts … but made all 18 of his 2-pointers. 

That 18-for-18 performance tied Antetokounmpo with Wilt Chamberlain for the most 2-point attempts without a miss an NBA game. Amazingly, that wasn’t the only Wilt record that Giannis matched in this game. He also became the first player since Chamberlain in 1967 to score 45 points and pull in 10 rebounds on at least 85 percent shooting.

At this point, the basketball world has become desensitized to Antetokounmpo’s remarkable efficiency. Despite matching last season’s performance, Antetokounmpo is widely expected to miss out on his third consecutive MVP award. There is no shortage of deserving candidates, and Nikola Jokic has been similarly spectacular. But Antetokounmpo’s reputation is almost harmed by how common games like this have become. Voters are bored of his greatness, which is an absolute shame since we haven’t seen anything like it since Chamberlain. 

Misadventures in switching

The Bucks have slipped to eighth on defense this season after ranking No. 1 in the league over the past two seasons. That’s largely by design. The Bucks are experimenting with more creative schemes than the drop coverage that has failed them in the past two postseasons. On Friday, they toyed with two important concepts against the Blazers: switching and trapping. Both require precise communication and motion from the entire defense, and both take time to develop. 

The Bucks are improving, but as Steve Jones pointed out on Twitter, they’re still susceptible to some of the most basic switch-busting techniques in basketball. Slipping screens is the most common method of beating a switching defense because it happens so quickly that the defense doesn’t have time to properly execute the switch. On this play, Damian Lillard slips before Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton have communicated on whether or not to switch. They don’t, and it’s an easy layup. 

P.J. Tucker is going to help on this front. No matter how much he’s lost physically, he’s one of the NBA’s best on-court defensive coordinators. He can help get the Bucks to the right places on the floor, but mastering a switching scheme usually takes a whole season. The Bucks are getting there, but with less than two months to go until the postseason, still have plenty of catching up to do if they plan to deploy this system against teams like Brooklyn. 

They’ll have to if they plan to reach the Finals. Switching is the only real antidote to shooting as potent as Brooklyn’s. The Blazers are a reasonable facsimile, especially after acquiring Norman Powell. The Blazers made 21 3’s in this game and attempted 54. That’s hardly ideal even in a blowout. These mistakes against the Nets will knock the Bucks out of the playoffs. 

To be the best, you have to beat the best

Damian Lillard raised an interesting point after the loss. “This is one of the best years since I’ve been here in terms of winning the games we’re ‘supposed’ to win,” he told reporters. “But against the top teams, we haven’t fared well.” Statistically speaking, he’s right. Check out their record and net rating against each tier of competition, according to Cleaning the Glass: 

Net rating

Record

Top-10 in point differential

-8.8

4-9

11-20 in point differential

-3.1

10-4

Bottom-10 in point differential

+6.3

15-6

This might seem obvious and, to an extent, it applies to most teams. It’s just especially meaningful to the Blazers considering how they tend to win games. Portland is 10 games above .500, but has a negative point differential. The Blazers are where they are almost exclusively because of Lillard. He is so good in the clutch that, when matched up against weaker teams that theoretically lack top shot-makers, he can outscore his opposing counterpart almost every time. But when the Blazers run into another contender? It doesn’t go so well. Their last lost prior to Friday came against James Harden and the Brooklyn Nets. 

In fairness, the Blazers were so injured earlier in the season that it’s hard to take their full-season numbers too seriously. But with their clutch numbers starting to regress (shockingly, Lillard couldn’t shoot 60 percent on clutch 3’s forever), Portland is going to have to start stepping up to the plate against top competition in order to compensate. Remember, you don’t get to play bottom-10 teams in the postseason. If teams like the Bucks can blow the Blazers out in the regular season, what will stop them from doing so in the playoffs? 


Sam Quinn
2021-04-03 02:00:05

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