For the first time, Damian Lillard faced the team that drafted him, and until this season, the team with which he spent his entire 11-year career.
It went well for Lillard and the Milwaukee Bucks, but not so much for the Portland Trail Blazers. When all was said and done, Lillard scored 31 points and made four free throws to seal a 118-112 home win for Milwaukee.
“Once I walked in, I saw a lot of familiar faces,” Lillard told reporters. “I thought about going to the visitors’ locker room for a second. I was like, ‘Man, this is a little bit different.’ Then when we got to the court, I saw everybody, and it was a weird feeling. But once we started playing, I kind of got over it quick. Just like before, I didn’t think it would be a big thing or a crazy thing, and it wasn’t.”
The Blazers actually led by 26 points in the third quarter — or 81-55 to be exact. That’s when Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo (33 points, 16 rebounds) and the rest of the Bucks came to life.
Antetokounmpo had a tip-in late to break a tie and Lillard’s four free throws all came with less than 11 seconds to go in the game.
The Blazers are receiving fine play from their veterans — as Jerami Grant scored 22 and Malcolm Brogdon had 18 — but for the most part, are still trying to find their way with young players. They also have struggled with an assortment of injuries.
“To be a good team, a really really good team, contending team in this league, you’ve got to have composure,” Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said. “Our composure was good for the most part, but when it really really counted, we came unraveled a little bit.”