Doc Rivers is off to an 0-2 start as coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, and Damian Lillard is 0-1 as a visiting player in Portland after the Blazers defeated the Bucks, 119-116, on Wednesday.
Despite another rough shooting night (9 of 23 overall, 3 of 13 from 3), Lillard, who received a long and loud standing ovation when he was introduced before going on to finish with 25 points, had a chance to make it all right with what could’ve been a storybook game-winner in the waning seconds.
But Malcolm Brogdon had other plans.
With 17.6 seconds left and the Bucks trailing by one, Lillard took the ball out on the side. It was obviously set up for him to get the ball right back on a handoff, which is what happened, and as Lillard pushed hard to his left, he wound up, for a brief instant, in a one-on-one situation with Deandre Ayton on the switch.
It couldn’t have been drawn up better. Lillard got into Ayton’s body, cleared space, and sprung back into what looked like it was going to be a wide-open 3 for a potential game-winner. But Brogdon instinctively, and wisely, abandoned Brook Lopez to sprint at Lillard from across the court and force the ball out of his hands.
This was the first of two textbook defensive efforts from Brogdon on the game’s most pivotal possession.
Lopez is a capable shooter and had made a pair of deep 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, but you still take your chances with him over Lillard every time in this situation. Toumani Camara flies at Lopez, forcing him into a pump fake and escape dribble.
Now, as Lopez raises up, for a split second it looks as if Brogdon is going to rush at him and leave Lillard, and if Lopez is poised enough, perhaps he might have an opportunity to kick it right back to Lillard at the last instant for the open shot.
But Brogdon is too smart for this. His move toward Lopez is only a stunt, and he immediately shows right back in Lillard’s direction, cutting off any chance of a clean pass to Lillard. Lopez is forced to put up a 30 footer with the added distraction of Brogdon stunting in his peripheral vision.
Here’s the possession in its entirety:
Again, this is outstanding work from Brogdon. The sprint across the court to force Lillard to pass initially was one thing, but it would have been so easy to relax after that first effort and leave Lillard unattended. Brogdon plays this like a linebacker who fakes a blitz at the line of scrimmage, then, just as the ball snaps and the quarterback thinks he’s going to have an open receiver, he drops back into coverage and jams up the passing lane.
It won’t show up in a box score, but that is an absolute winning play from a winning player. And it ruined Lillard’s homecoming.