PORTLAND – The Portland Trailblazers marked the beginning of a daunting four-game West Coast trip for the Milwaukee Bucks. It was the first stop in a six-day stretch that would include meetings with the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets.
Speaking with The Pick and Roll prior to the trip, Matthew Dellavedova believed the group was ready, and well aware of the task ahead.
“It’s going to be a different challenge,” Dellavedova said. “It’s a long road trip against teams that are playing well, who also play different styles of basketball so it’s going a good test for us.”
The Rose Garden in Portland is well renowned for being one of the loudest venues in the NBA, and it didn’t take long for the local crowd to find their voice. All-Star guard, Damian Lillard went to work early, drilling two triples in as many possessions to spark the home crowd into action.
An entertaining first quarter saw Portland take a slender 33-31 lead before the CJ McCollum show began.
The electric guard recorded a franchise high point total against Milwaukee, as he torched the Bucks for 40 points on 17-for-26 shooting from the field. Mike Budenholzer's defensive scheme is designed around giving the opposition looks from the mid-range, and McCollum feasted on the cushion given to him by the Bucks defence, repeatedly making them pay throughout.
With the game evenly keeled at halftime, McCollum exploded for 19 points in the third quarter, connecting on nine of his eleven attempts, while providing the highlight of the night as he put Bucks’ rookie Donte DiVincenzo on skates, before dropping in a floater from the free throw line.
Milwaukee threatened at times in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t get over the hump, with the final dagger coming on an Al-Farouq Aminu mid-range jumper to push the lead to 14 with 3:07 remaining.
Thon Maker and Dellavedova failed to see any action on Wednesday, as Budenholzer stuck with his core rotation as time wound down.
It was an unfamiliar feeling in the Bucks' locker room postgame. The usual upbeat banter was hushed, as a clearly disappointed group lamented the rare loss, just their second in ten games.
The Pick and Roll caught up with Maker postgame, who described the difficulties Milwaukee faced in curtailing McCollum.
“CJ got his favourite shots tonight, he loves the mid-range, but at the same time I thought our guards tried to make it tough for him. [Portland] did a great job of getting him open in the pick and roll, and he did a great job of making those [open] shots.”
The 40-point explosion from McCollum continues an alarming trend for the Bucks, who have struggled to curtail quick guards in the season's early going. The task will not get any easier, as Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors await the team in just 48 hours.
A wry smile appeared on Maker's face as he acknowledged the challenge that awaits, but he insisted the group remains confident they can respond in the vein necessary to compete with the two-time defending world champions.
“It’s just a matter of watching film. I don’t know how coach [Budenholzer] will do it, but in the past we would watch film after the West Coast trip was finished," Maker said. "We’ll move on from tonight and focus on Golden State. There was a lot of things we did right and we believe the things that went wrong can be corrected.”
The Bucks spend the night in Portland, before heading to the Bay Area tomorrow morning.
Here's hoping they get a good night's rest, because the greatest challenge in the NBA looms large.
Milwaukee at Golden State tips off at 2:30pm AEST, Friday.