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NBA Playoffs 2018 - Milwaukee vs. Boston: Thon Maker Cometh

Milwaukee’s forgotten sophomore provides an unforgettable spark to vault the Bucks to victory

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Few would’ve predicted Thon Maker would be the difference maker the Milwaukee Bucks needed, but that wound up being the case as they knocked off the Boston Celtics 116-92. Milwaukee barreled forward in the initial quarter with the first sense of momentum they’ve had all series, powered by Thon Maker’s energizing blocks as the Bucks notched a 27-12 lead. Oh, and the Celtics shot just 2-19 for the period. The second period continued to go Milwaukee’s way, as a 3-point barrage to end the half helped them snag a 58-35 advantage as halftime started. Milwaukee stopped Boston’s first run of the game in the third and still finished it out ahead by 18, 85-67. It didn’t matter to Milwaukee though, who built upon their lead in the fourth and found their way to letting the scrubs get minutes as the game concluded.

Three Main Observations

The Thon Show

Thon Maker was forced into the game by virtue of Zeller’s foul trouble, but he came through with his best performance since last year’s Playoffs. His immediate insertion resulted in a block that turned into a Giannis fastbreak, but the more interesting part was his first offensive possession, when Giannis stayed at the free throw line and worked it like the smallball lineups the Bucks found success with at the end of game one. Instead, Maker simply stayed around the arc, allowing Giannis to act as the de facto center. More importantly, his defensive presence made him seem like a menace at the rim. He had a flashy block on Brown, followed up by one against Monroe driving to the basket, destroyed Jayson Tatum’s drive to the hoop and obliterated Moose again. It was by far the best stretch of his I can remember this season. He splashed home a three in the second quarter too and could’ve played Greg Monroe off the court if Brad Stevens wasn’t throwing spaghetti at a wall tonight. Prunty has to play him, and potentially start him, next game to see what Stevens has in mind for his adjustment. Bask in these highlights:

Engaged Eric

Eric Bledsoe, for the first time this series, seemed intrigued by playing defense against the Celtics. His dogged pursuit of them around the perimeter frustrated their guards, forcing them into silly fouls several times throughout the game. He didn’t let them get free driving to the hoop and he smartly switched onto folks and corralled them until their primary defender could recover. Additionally, he blasted into the frontcourt offensively, using his speed and acceleration to blast by Celtics defenders for easy finishes at the rim. Those are precisely the two facets Milwaukee needs from him this series, even if his fouling was too pronounced tonight.

Jamming Jabari

Jabari Parker has grabbed many of the headlines in these few days between game two and three with his controversial comments about playing time. While those seemed foolhardy, her certainly made the most of his time on the court tonight. He looked confident with the ball in his hands, jacking it up from deep when he saw the opportunity and banging around in the post when switched onto a Celtic big defensively. His defensive deficiencies will always be there, but his offensive burst is a necessary complement for a Milwaukee team that can score in bunches when it gets going. Their lineups with Jabari and Thon spacing the floor worked surprisingly well too, plus they survived on the defensive end with Maker’s sublime play.

Bonus Bucks Bits

With John Henson out, Prunty was forced to insert Tyler Zeller into the starting lineup, but he also opted to bench Tony Snell in favor of Malcolm Brogdon tonight. I still think Snell fits better and Brogdon seemed to struggle tonight.

Bledsoe tallied two fouls within the first four minutes of the first, prompting Delly to enter the game for his first extended action since his return from ankle injury. He expressed frustration walking to the bench too, stomping at the chair as he sulked over. Thankfully, it didn’t deter him from remaining aggressive as the game proceeded.

Giannis and Khris picked up the slack in his absence though, as they have all series, and Giannis hit his first three of the series so far en route to a 10-0 run surged by Giannis’ creation and Khris’ shotmaking.

Terry Rozier’s zero turnovers may have been a highly touted stat coming into tonight, but that streak snapped almost immediately.

Milwaukee’s offensive rebounding problem certainly wasn’t solved in the first quarter tonight, when Boston had five offensive boards as Tyler Zeller couldn’t snag anything at the rim. Fortunately the turnover problem flipped at least, with Milwaukee only coughing it up three times compared to Boston’s eight. Even with 16 OREB for the Celtics on the game, Milwaukee was able to post far better rim protection on the evening. Still, they need to clean it up for game four.

Jabari Parker’s first stint tonight finally yielded results for the Bucks. Not only was he able to create for a three, but he offered decent post resistance to Monroe and Horford while looking engaged for the first time offensively. This junk-grabbing yam was pretty satisfying:

Giannis and Khris executed a beautiful switch pick-and-roll coverage off a jump ball in the second quarter. Khris was caught on Shane Larkin while Horford set the pick, but Giannis jumped it and leaped over to contain Larkin from getting fleetly to the hoop. When Larkin hesitated and Horford tried to sink back to the paint, Middleton and Giannis switched once more, forcing Larkin into an eventual turnover on the baseline. I really wish Prunty could instill that more in his guys considering most of their lineups are tailor-made for it.

Milwaukee stole several minutes midway in the second quarter with both Thon Maker and Jabari Parker as their frontcourt defenders. Thankfully, they were able to prevent Boston from grabbing stuff on the offensive glass and Jabari looked bouncy at the rim, working deftly off Khris Middleton in space to slam at the hoop. Stevens went with an interesting, supersized counter too, putting in Greg Monroe and Aron Baynes once Giannis came in to pair up with Thon and ‘Bari. Boston’s gambit didn’t really pay off, as Milwaukee got their big guys in space and made them pay.

This Giannis dunk is still unbelievable. Aron Baynes continues to be his greatest dunk muse:

Thon Maker’s spacing continued to help Milwaukee in the second half. In the third, he sprinted down the court and swerved to the right corner, forcing Al Horford to step slightly over as Jabari Parker barreled down the court. As Horford paid credence to Thon’s spacing ability, that left Jabari to dominate Baynes one-on-one with no help for an easy finish. Savvy stuff for someone who knows his role offensively.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a technical foul called in the middle of a series of free throws, but Marcus Morris was ticked off enough to do that while Maker was tossing them up.