Milwaukie at Portland

Coming off the defeat of the Miami and the last second Memphis win, this is a game Portland should win, and easily. They are a better team than Milwaukie and Milwaukie is missing pieces like Simmons. Of course, Portland also should have beat Philadelphia, Washington, ....okay, you get the picture. I thought the Blazers were good enough to compete with almost anybody but they have also shown themselves capable of losing to anybody.

As usual, I thought going in the keys to the game were Roy and Aldridge having their "standard" type games...15 - 25 points each, Aldridge with 8 - 10 boards, Roy with 4 - 6 boards, 4 - 8 assists, both around 50% shooting with Aldridge above and Roy maybe a hair under that mark, and then for 2 other players to step up, maybe Outlaw and Jack, maybe Webster...as long as SOMEONE stepped up.

Well, Aldridge and Roy both scored 24+ points on excellent shooting...but Aldridge could not buy a rebound, ending with just 3. Fortunately Roy had not just an average or good game but a great game, missing just two of his 13 shots, pulling down 8 rebounds, and dishing out 9 assists.

How about the support? Well, 2 people stepped up. First, Steve Blake elected to score and score in a big way, dropping in 19. And helping out considerably was Travis Outlaw.

On the surface, his game looks rough...3-11 shooting, just 5 rebounds. But then you notice he also took 16 free throws...and made 14 of them...and suddenly his game looks better. Outlaw was making things happen. He was drawing fouls, creating havoc, and he was not afraid to take a shot. That means he was getting into the lane and breaking down the defense.

Defensively, the Blazers had an up and down game. On the bright side, Michael Redd was held to 5-23 shooting. That is a positive, promising start. However, Bogut, Williams and Villaneuva all had strong games with better than 50% shooting, and in one case 70%.

The first quarter was very back and forth with each team holding small leads. In the second quarter Portland started to pull away, building a lead as high as 10 points but the Bucks battled back to pull within 6. Aldridge and Roy both were in double figures and Blake added 8 in a fine 57 point first half. The Blazers were scoring and scoring well.

They built the lead back to 10 and maintained it for most of the quarter until a late burst by the Bucks narrowed it to 84-76 entering the 4th quarter. Portland was getting scoring from numerous quarters with Aldridge, Roy, Blake and Outlaw all hot and Webster making the occasional contribution. Everything was set for Portland to run away with the game. They avoided the third quarter collapse...they came back after scoring but 4 points in the first 4 minutes, maintained their lead and got some rest for their key players.

The 4th quarter started well with Outlaw scoring to extend the lead back to 10. Then something happened. Jack turned the ball over a couple times, they missed a couple of shots, couldn't stop the Bucks and all the sudden the 10 point lead was a 5 point deficit as the Bucks went on a 15-0 run.

Here comes gut check time. Portland has struggled not just on the road but at home lately. Early in the year I would have had no doubt they would come back and win. However, ever since that Philadelphia game when everything fell apart, they have not been the same team. They showed some life in the Memphis thriller and again when the Heat made a run. How would they react to this?

They went on a 6 point run of their own to retake the lead. Then it was back and forth with the Bucks taking 2 or 3 point leads and the Blazers catching up. But the Bucks started to pull away, building a 6 point lead with about 2-1/2 minutes remaining. Portland needed someone to step up.

Or several somebodies. Embodying the team concept, Outlaw, Blake, Roy and Aldridge all scored with the final two Aldridge free throws tying the game with 15 seconds left.

Neither team could score and Portland would see how they played in an overtime game. Early on it did not look good as the Bucks took the lead. Again with 2-1/2 minutes left they had a 5 point lead and things looked bleak. They looked worse when, after making a big jumper, Aldridge fouled out and Portland still trailed by 3.

But Outlaw hit 4 crucial free throws, Blake added a couple, and Roy hit a layup. Meanwhile, the Bucks could muster only one Bell free throw in the last 2:18 and the Blazers gutted out a clutch 117-113 win.

It is exciting to see because this seems more like the team I believed Portland had early in the season. Winning at home, competing on the road, and good enough to make the playoffs. It will be interesting to see if that swoon will be repeated. Hopefully not.

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