MILWAUKEE -- With the way things have been going lately for the Milwaukee Bucks, there was no way it would be this easy.
A 31-8 second quarter gave Milwaukee a 27-point lead at the half, but the Bucks still had to weather a second-half charge before outlasting the Portland Blazers, 102-95, Tuesday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
"It's human nature to let your guard down a little bit and relax," Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. "Portland is playing for its playoff life. I knew they would come out and try and get it down as quickly as they could and they did. We weren't ready."
Brandon Jennings led the Bucks with 24 points and seven assists and Monta Ellis had 21 with 9 rebounds and eight assists to help the Bucks, who also got 16 points from Samuel Dalembert and 14 from J.J. Redick, hold off the Portland rally.
Milwaukee led by four after the first, then went on a 16-0 run to take a 43-32 lead with 6:40 left in the first half. Portland's first points of the quarter came on a pair of free throws by J.J. Hickson with 6:03 remaining and the Blazers didn't get their first field goal until LaMarcus Aldridge converted a tip-in at the 3:56 mark.
In all, Portland went 2 of 20 from the field during the quarter but finished at 43.4 percent and made 13-of-26 3-pointers.
"That was pretty good," said Milwaukee center Larry Sanders, who finished with 13 rebounds and two blocked shots. "We just tried to focus on contesting everything, getting our hands up and not letting them get a second chance. When we contest shots and rebound well, good things happen on the other end."
Portland opened the second half with a 12-2 run. The Blazers cut the lead to 15 points on Matthews' 3-pointer with 5:41 remaining in the third but missed six straight shots late in the quarter, and Milwaukee led 77-57 heading into the fourth.
"Twenty-seven is a big hole," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. "On the road its bigger. I didn't know how the second half would go, but we kept battling. I thought we played the right way. We were more aggressive defensively and we made shots. We played very well in the second, but 27 is a big hole."
The late surge continued for the Blazers in the final quarter. With just under five minutes to play, the Bucks' lead shrank to 10 after Matthews' 24-foot 3-pointer. A Matthews steal and dunk cut it to 91-83, but Jennings connected on a 3-pointer to extend Milwaukee's lead back to 11.
Matthews got the Blazers within seven on a 3-pointer with 1:33 left, but Portland couldn't close the gap further.
"All we can do is go out and battle," said Matthews, who finished with 28 points and made a career-best seven 3-pointers to lead Portland. "We got down to them pretty heavy. We knew we had an uphill climb but we fought back."
Matthews scored 20 of his points in the second half. Aldrige added 21 points and 15 rebounds as the Blazers lost for the second consecutive night, having fallen 101-100 at Philadelphia on Monday.
NOTES: In their previous three games, the Bucks were outscored in the paint by an average of 54.0-39.3 points per game. On Tuesday, Milwaukee held a 42-38 advantage on inside scoring. ... Matthews, who played college ball in the same building while at Marquette, has scored 20 or more points 16 times this season. His 28 points Tuesday were his highest at the Bradley Center, pro or college. The Blazers are 6-1 when he scores at least 22 ... Milwaukee is averaging 26.2 assists per game since Feb. 23. ... Milwaukee big man Ersan Ilyasova, who suffered a hip injury Sunday against Orlando, missed the game and will likely not travel to Atlanta on Wednesday. The Bucks were also without Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who missed his fifth straight game with a toe injury.