PORTLAND, Ore. – It took some determined defense in the last 3 minutes for the Milwaukee Bucks to escape with a 93-90 victory over Portland on Tuesday night at the Moda Center.
The Bucks scored the final six points of the game and denied the Trail Blazers, holding them scoreless after Damian Lillard tossed in a floater with 3 minutes 12 seconds left to give Portland a three-point lead.
John Henson and Giannis Antetokounmpo made huge blocks and Lillard missed an off-balance 28-foot shot in the final seconds as the Bucks won at one of the toughest venues in the league.
Milwaukee (35-35) stayed in seventh place in the Eastern Conference and moved within one game of sixth-place Indiana. The Bucks improved to 3-2 on their season’s longest trip with one game remaining Wednesday night in Sacramento.
BOX SCORE: Bucks 93, Trail Blazers 90
Bucks coach Jason Kidd inserted Henson and Malcolm Brogdon in the lineup with 3:46 remaining after the Trail Blazers had rallied to take an 88-85 lead.
“They went small and I went as long as I could with Moose (Greg Monroe),” Kidd said. “Lillard got to the rim and started having a layup drill. We got out of the small (lineup) and we got John back in the game. He helped us win that game late.
“This team is very dangerous; they can score a lot of points in a hurry. For us to focus on trying to take the three out of the game and make them take tough twos, I thought the guys executed the game plan well.”
The Bucks limited the Trail Blazers to 4-of-21 shooting (19%) from three-point distance and Lillard was just 2 of 9.
Khris Middleton paced Milwaukee with 26 points and Antetokounmpo added 22 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks as he bounced back from a sub-par game Saturday against Golden State.
After Middleton hit an 8-foot shot in the lane to give the Bucks a 91-90 lead with 2:15 left, Henson blocked a shot by Allen Crabbe. On Milwaukee’s next possession, Henson followed a miss by Antetokoumpo and tipped it home to give the Bucks a three-point margin.
“That’s my role on this team, to make it harder to score around the rim,” Henson said. “Toward the end, I did that and it turned out to be big for us.”
Henson finished with six points, eight rebounds and three blocks in 20 minutes.
Lillard scored 49 points in the Trail Blazers’ previous game, a road win over Miami. This time he had 31 points but needed 26 shots to do that.
“We knew he could launch from anywhere at any time,” Middleton said. “So we just wanted to take him out of his rhythm and be up on his pick-and-rolls and not let him shoot those threes.”
The Bucks now have a chance for a winning road trip if they can knock off the Kings on Wednesday.
“That’s what we were shooting for,” Middleton said. “We started off bad in Memphis but we came back and fought, got two wins in L.A. and got a big win here. Now we’ve got to close out the trip in Sac tomorrow.”
Middleton has assumed the closer role for the Bucks in close games, something he embraces.
“It’s what my team needs me to do, whether I have the ball or I’m playing without it or just trying to help on the defensive side,” Middleton said. “It’s something I’m comfortable with and I just have to do it. It’s my job.”
Milwaukee trailed early, 10-2, but recovered to get within 21-18 after one quarter. The Bucks outscored the Trail Blazers, 30-14, in the second quarter to take a 48-35 halftime lead.
Antetokounmpo and Middleton each had 15 points in the half, with all of Antetokounmpo’s points coming in the second quarter.
The Bucks limited the Trail Blazers to 1-of-9 shooting from three-point range in the half.
Milwaukee led, 67-63, entering the fourth quarter after Lillard heated up to help Portland outscore the Bucks, 28-19, in the third period. Lillard had 12 points in the quarter.
But at the end, the Trail Blazers found their path blocked. Portland went 0 for 7 and center Jusuf Nurkic committed a turnover in the final 3 minutes.
“We came together at the end,” said Brogdon, who smothered Lillard on his final attempt and did not allow an open look. “We had to make him shoot a contested, off-balance three. We got the shot we wanted.
“It’s the best you can do. If he hits that shot, then you tip your hat to him.”
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo did not score in the first quarter while missing three shots. But he went 6 for 10 while playing the entire second quarter and finished the half with 15 points and four rebounds.
2. The Bucks got some good news earlier in the night when Brook Lopez hit a game-winner at the buzzer to give Brooklyn a 98-96 victory over Detroit. And the Chicago Bulls blew a big lead to lose in overtime in Toronto, 122-120. Miami beat Phoenix, 112-97, to put itself back in playoff position. The Bucks lead eighth-place Miami (34-35) by one-half game. They are 1 1/2 games ahead of Detroit (34-37) and 2 1/2 games ahead of Chicago (33-38).
3. Portland center Jusuf Nurkic is one big man. He had nine rebounds while playing just 13 minutes in the first half as he got into early foul trouble. He wound up with 11 points and a game-high 14 rebounds despite being limited to 27 minutes.
Teams: Milwaukee Bucks (35-35) vs. Sacramento Kings (27-43).
When: 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Where: Golden 1 Center.
About the Kings: Sacramento has lost 10 of its last 12 games, including consecutive defeats on the road against Oklahoma City and San Antonio. Buddy Hield has moved into the starting lineup after arriving in the DeMarcus Cousins trade and is averaging 13.7 points in 13 games with the Kings (six starts). Skal Labissiere, the rookie from Kentucky, is getting more playing time off the bench and scored a career-high 32 points in the Kings’ 107-101 win over Phoenix on March 15. The Bucks won the first meeting between the teams, 117-91, on Nov. 5.