PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Damian Lillard’s former team took some of the shine off his homecoming gala.
Anfernee Simons scored 24 points, including a key floater with 17.1 seconds left, and the Portland Trail Blazers beat Lillard and the Milwaukee Bucks 119-116 on Wednesday night.
Lillard finished with 25 points for the Bucks in their second straight loss under new coach Doc Rivers. Giannis Antetokounmpo added 27 points and eight rebounds.
It was Lillard’s first game in Portland since being traded to the Bucks in the offseason. Lillard was the beloved face of the Blazers franchise during his first 11 seasons in the NBA.
“It was a fun night, celebrating a great player, a great person,” Simons said. “We come here as if we also have things we want to achieve. “We came with the desire to win the game.”
Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said the moment wasn’t too big for the young Blazers.
“It was like a big character victory for us,” Billups said. “A cultural victory for us.”
The Blazers held a narrow lead at the half and kept it close in the third quarter, going ahead 86-81 on a Matisse Thybulle three-pointer. Simons hit a jumper that gave Portland a 96-61 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Malcolm Brogdon hit a three-pointer that stretched Portland’s lead to 101-91. Lillard’s three-pointers closed the gap to 101-95 for the Bucks.
Milwaukee put pressure on Portland down the stretch. A 3-pointer by Brook Lopez cut the score to 113-112, but Jerami Grant answered with an off-balance jumper for Portland at the other end with 2:21 left.
Lillard’s layup brought the Bucks within a point again. Antetokounmpo put the Bucks ahead on Lillard’s dunk with 37.2 seconds left. But Simons’ floater gave Portland back the lead.
Brook Lopez missed a 3-pointer with 8 seconds left before Grant made free throws. Then, in the final seconds, the Blazers fouled Antetokounmpo, who missed both free throws to give Portland the victory.
“There were a lot of things that could have gone wrong, like a couple of turnovers. Sometimes with a young team, that derails the team, but we stick with it,” Simons said. “We were calm and understood what we wanted to achieve.”
Deandre Ayton added 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Blazers, who have won two straight.
Despite the loss, it was Lillard’s night. The eight-time All-Star received a long ovation before the game and tributes played on the video scoreboard during timeouts. At one point, he seemed moved to tears.
Lillard’s layup was Milwaukee’s first basket of the game.
“These games are difficult games. The local teams want to beat the comeback guy. You could see it in his elation at the game,” Rivers said.
It was just the Bucks’ second game under Rivers. The Denver Nuggets ruined their debut Monday night with a 113-107 victory.
Rivers last week replaced first-year Bucks coach Adrian Griffin, who was fired after 43 games and a 30-13 record. While Milwaukee sits just behind first-place Boston in the Eastern Conference, there have been concerns about the Bucks’ declining defensive rating.
Lillard was acquired just before the start of the season to team with two-time MVP Antetokounmpo in hopes of another NBA title. The Bucks won the championship in 2021.
The Blazers have focused on developing young talent in Lillard’s absence. Scoot Henderson, the third overall pick in last year’s draft, scored 15 points in the first half off the bench.
Portland, second-to-last in the Western Conference, stayed close to the Bucks throughout the first half. A 3-pointer by Simons near the end of the half tied the score at 61 and Portland went into halftime with a 67-65 lead.
A boy in the crowd held a sign directed at Lillard that said, “Go get your ring and then come home.”
“These types of games where there’s a lot of meaning and a lot of emotion, they’re always fun,” Lillard said. “These games have a little more juice. That’s what it was tonight. “It was an entertaining game.”
The teams met earlier this season, with the Bucks winning 108-102 in Milwaukee.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
Bucks: visit the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday.
Trail Blazers: Play the first of two in a row against the Denver Nuggets on Friday.
AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba