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NBA Playoffs 2018: Bucks Down 0-2 to Celtics, Series In Jeopardy

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Game 3 looms large for Milwaukee on Friday night.

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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:

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...

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.

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:

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.