In the span of three days and two disappointing playoff performances, the Milwaukee Bucks went from having a fighting chance at an upset...to trying to avoid a sweep against the Boston Celtics. Likewise, the mood of the fanbase (which can already be a dark place!) went from cautious optimism about the series outlook to unbridled despair and unquenchable anger, largely due to the worst case (non-injury) scenario for the Bucks coming to pass. They have gotten beat, and gotten beat badly.
Briefly reviewing the overall trends of the series, we can see two main themes. We see that the Bucks’ defense is completely unprepared to contain the Celtics’ heretofore below-average offense, and we see that Milwaukee has, outside of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, no weapons that can bypass the armor of the Celtics’ league-leading defense.
“Talent wins out” is an NBA cliché, but so is “Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard.” In this case, the hard work equates to a certain sense of discipline and purpose, which the Bucks are lacking and the Celtics demonstrate in excess.
There is no getting around the fact that Milwaukee is a poorly-coached team. Schematically, many of their main contributors are put into positions that do not maximize their skillsets, which thus lowers the team’s overall ceiling because guys are not placed in situations to be successful. But beyond that, player engagement ebbs and flows from game to game, particularly on the defensive end. “Energy and effort” was a reviled refrain from the Jason Kidd Era, but it’s difficult to argue that it’s not a major factor right now.
Many fans are bewildered by the team’s subpar showings, but that doesn’t even begin to describe how they’re feeling about two of the Bucks’ most prominent supporting cast: Eric Bledsoe and Jabari Parker.
I asked Eric Bledsoe about Terry Rozier’s strong start to the series and if he takes that matchup personally. He responded, “Who?” I said, “Terry Rozier.”— Matt Velazquez (@Matt_Velazquez) April 18, 2018
Bledsoe: “I don’t even know who the $@%# that is.”
Let’s start with Bledsoe. Not only does he not know who he has been guarding for the whole series, he has simply not been right for the two games of the postseason. Thus far, his per-game averages include 10.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists vs. 3.0 turnovers, 0.5 steals, while shooting 36.0% from the field.
Bledsoe’s rapid descent to “sub-Terry Rozier” levels of play is inexplicable. He may have never been the most consistent player, but he has been solid lately and apparently waited until the playoffs to completely fall apart as an impact basketball player. Who is this guy? Allegedly (although the source should come with some scrutiny), Bledsoe’s lack of consistency has been a sticking point for longer than the current series:
I was told earlier this year by a league source that the #Bucks had grown increasingly frustrated with Eric Bledsoe in terms of his lack of consistent effort and focus. He simply doesn’t bring it enough, esp considering how talented he is.— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) April 18, 2018
Speaking of “falling apart as an impact basketball player,” what in the world is going on with Jabari Parker? He has never been able to participate in the NBA Playoffs until now, but now that he’s here? Over two games, he’s given you 2 points and 6 rebounds in 25 minutes. Two points! Twenty-five minutes! Across two games! And you may ask, “Why is he playing so little?” Well...
Tatum whips the ball down low to Brown who finishes with ease! pic.twitter.com/gUjUE66FMw— Boston Celtics (@celtics) April 15, 2018
The above clip might be the most egregious example of Parker’s lethargy in action, but he has never – NEVER – looked engaged at any point over the last two games. Jabari’s reputation as a minus-defender is well-documented, but his lack of anything has translated over to offense now. Eric and Frank make some solid observations on that topic on today’s episode of Locked on Bucks; be sure to give it a listen.
Locked on Bucks, 4/18/18: Celtics crush Bucks in Game 2 (Ep #382) https://t.co/zZIP0qP7sX— Locked On Bucks (@lockedonbucks) April 18, 2018
Because of Jabari’s status as a prospective franchise savior, former high draft pick, and pending restricted free agent, the rabbit hole runs much deeper with him and it does anywhere else. Parker has already made a number of questionable statements lately, making many fans question whether or not he wants to be a Buck long-term, and apparently (again, considering the source) the hesitation exists on both sides:
Worth noting that multiple coaches have told me the #Bucks are frustrated w/Jabari Parker’s immaturity around a perceived lack of touches. More importantly, they believe that Giannis’ rise has prompted Parker to develop an unhealthy dose of jealousy toward Giannis. https://t.co/cJZS8p8VMT— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) April 18, 2018
None of this is to let everybody else off the hook. Tony Snell hasn’t hit shots, and he’s taken even fewer. Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova aren’t back up to full-speed yet. Playoff John Henson is still very much what you can get out of John Henson, which isn’t infinite. Jason Terry is 40; expecting him to defend players who were born while he was in college is unfair (and a poor choice by Joe Prunty). Sterling Brown is a rookie (who should play more), Tyler Zeller is overmatched by the Celtics’ bigs, and Shabazz Muhammad is a microwave scorer with no range.
But Bledsoe has been bad, and Jabari has been damn near unplayable. The context around his status (both present and future) in Milwaukee makes things so much more tense. Winning cures all ails...but trying helps. Try harder, guys. C’mon.