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Bucks vs. Pacers: Bobby Portis redeems himself after ejection as Milwaukee stays alive without its stars

MILWAUKEE — A few minutes into the Milwaukee Bucks‘ Game 4 loss to the Indiana Pacers, Bobby Portis was ejected for scuffling with Andrew Nembhard. The veteran forward went back to the visitor’s locker room deep inside Gainbridge Fieldhouse, took a seat at his locker and watched the rest of the game without even taking off his jersey. Time and again throughout the night, he saw moments where he knew he could have helped his team.

As Game 5 approached, all Portis wanted was a chance to set things right. He started the day by apologizing to his teammates during a film session, then went out and showed them he really meant it by pouring in a playoff-career-high 29 points on 14-of-24 shooting from the field and grabbing 10 rebounds in the Bucks’ season-saving 115-92 win. 

By the time he walked off the court for good late in the fourth quarter, he did so to a standing ovation and the familiar “Bobby! Bobby!” chant that has become a staple at Fiserv Forum throughout his tenure. 

“Every time he steps on the court he leaves it all out there,” Brook Lopez said. “He goes out there and he can hoop, he wants to win and fans just love that obviously. We knew BP was gonna come out and be himself and be great.” 

After winning Game 1 comfortably, the short-handed Bucks dropped three in a row and found themselves down 3-1 — a deficit they have never overcome in franchise history. Giannis Antetokounmpo hasn’t played the entire series due to a calf injury, and Damian Lillard has sat out of the last two games due to an Achilles issue. 

It’s unclear when or if the Bucks’ stars will be back in the first round, and Portis hadn’t handled the extra pressure their absences put on him very well during the Bucks’ three consecutive defeats. He gave the Pacers bulletin board material by calling them “frontrunners” after Game 2, scored 31 points on 31 shots in Games 2 and 3 combined, then got tossed from Game 4.  

Rivers was “very proud” of how Portis responded on Tuesday, as were his teammates. While they all knew how Portis felt about letting them down a few nights ago, Khris Middleton said it “meant a lot” that Portis got up in front of the group and held himself accountable. 

Portis’ mature and steady performance meant even more. He got to his spots, knocked down shots and played within the flow of the offense. And when the two teams got into it once more in the middle of the second quarter, Rivers said Portis was the one keeping everyone calm. 

“Sometimes in basketball games or any type of competitive scene, there’s kind of individual battles you fight throughout the game,” Portis said. “I got caught up in an individual war with one of their players [in Game 4]. Just tried to zone out tonight, just worry about doing the things that coach and my team needed. Just follow the game plan and just play as hard as I could knowing that it was an elimination game.”

Portis is, in many ways, a bellwether for this Bucks team. 

They were 10-4 in the regular season when he scored 20 points or more and 22-11 when he put up at least 15 points, compared to 27-22 when he failed to get to the latter number. He was much better at home, where he averaged 15.5 points on 53.6% shooting, compared to 12 points on 47.2% shooting on the road. Likewise, the Bucks went 31-11 in Milwaukee and 18-22 on their travels. 

All of those trends have been magnified in the playoffs given their injury problems. Portis’ heroics may have extended the series long enough to give Antetokounmpo and Lillard — both “very, very close” to playing per Rivers — the chance to return. If not, they’ll need Portis to break the season-long trends and deliver in Indianapolis on Thursday night in Game 6. 

“We know what we gotta do,” Lopez said. “We know the team we are, we know the players we are, we know the challenge we have ahead… The past is in the past. He just has to come out, be himself, take it a game at a time.” 

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