The Milwaukee Bucks had their Thanksgiving feast a day early.
Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon took care of the carving, slicing through the Portland Trail Blazers defense at will. Khris Middleton quietly gobbled up buckets, putting up 21 points in just 24 minutes of efficient work.
But no good Thanksgiving celebration is complete without some high-quality stuffing and Giannis Antetokounmpo came through with a hefty helping – in multiple ways – Wednesday night in a 143-100 shellacking of the Trail Blazers in front of 17,591 fans at Fiserv Forum.
Antetokounmpo got the Bucks going early, throwing down four dunks in the first quarter alone as Milwaukee built a lead as large as 19 points in the opening 12 minutes. That set the tone for what would be a relentless assault of the rim – for both him and the Bucks – on the way to tying his season high at 33 points.
“I think we did a great job setting the tone tonight for the entire team,” Antetokounmpo said. “We know they were off a back-to-back, so we wanted to come out with energy and try to get a lead early.”
When stuffing balls through the rim stopped, Antetokounmpo turned his attention to stuffing the stat sheet. Late in the third quarter with the win well in hand, he sprayed assists around — two to Tony Snell on three-pointers along with a pass to Thon Maker for a three — to finish just shy of a triple-double with 16 rebounds and nine assists, not to mention his three steals, in 29½ minutes over the first three quarters.
BOX SCORE: Bucks 143, Trail Blazers 100
“I knew that,” Antetokounmpo said when asked about being close to a triple-double. “My teammates told me to go get it, so that’s what I tried. … I always go to Tony. He was able to knock down some shots. Thon did the same thing. Then some didn’t go in. It was a great win overall.”
Everything the Bucks did in the fourth quarter was just gravy and even then it was impressive as their five-man cleanup crew – a hungry unit that has played sparingly – grew their inherited 30-point advantage into a lead as large as 46 points.
Facing the team with the best record in the Western Conference – the one that served up Milwaukee’s worst loss of the season in Portland on Nov. 6 – the Bucks showed no mercy in exacting revenge. After stringing together slow starts in recent games, Milwaukee hit the ground running with an 11-2 run, opening with a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
Thanks to Antetokounmpo’s 13 first-quarter points, with a side of Bledsoe putting up 8 of his 16, the Bucks took an 11 point margin into the second quarter. That’s when Brogdon stepped up, barreling to the basket possession after possession for strong finishes on the way to scoring 10 of his 16 points in that period.
With a rare drive for an and-1, Snell gave the Bucks an 11-point lead with 9 minutes, 41 seconds left in the second quarter, marking the moment Milwaukee’s lead hit double digits for good.
Milwaukee finished with 72 points in the paint in their second-highest scoring game of the season, supplementing their final total by going 15 of 45 from long range. Maker and Christian Wood gave the Bucks six double-digit scorers, putting up 11 points each and combining for 16 in the fourth quarter.
“They all work so hard in practice and they work hard in their individuals,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “They’re staying ready and it’s a real testament to that group and their character. I thought they played within our stuff. A lot of positives. … I think they earned a day off tomorrow, earned a good Thanksgiving.”
Playing on a back-to-back at the close of a five-game road trip, the Blazers never got into any flow at either end. Star guard Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum scored 22 points apiece, but those were the only silver lining for the Blazers, who shot just 36.6% from the field, including 9 of 42 (21.4%) on three-pointers.
The victory kept the Bucks’ roll going, giving them three wins in a row heading into the final two games of their current six-game homestand. At 43 points, the margin of victory was Milwaukee’s largest since 2000.
“I think we definitely have made a statement so far,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think teams, when they come to Milwaukee, they know they’re going to play a great team and they’ve got to play hard and play well. At the end of the day, I think we’re getting better every day. We have a long way to go until April, May and June.”