It was a shooting night the (Marv Albert voice) on fire Milwaukee Bucks would like to forget, as the Boston Celtics held them to just 36.8% from the field en route to the Celts winning 92-87. Milwaukee’s finally cooled in the first quarter at Boston, shooting just 28.6% and playing poor defense en route to the Celtics staking a 23-15 advantage. The Bucks fell behind significantly as the second quarter continued, but a late scoring burst at least brought them within 48-37 as halftime dawned. A sporadic scoring spree by Shabazz Muhammad somehow vaulted the Bucks back into it in the third, but they managed to bungle it away late and let Boston restore a 72-61 lead when the period ended. Milwaukee again pulled within four in the fourth quarter, but Boston staved them off with some shots in the paint, poor officiating and clutch free throw strikes.
Three Main Observations
Living (for once) by the Three
Milwaukee took plenty of early possession 3-pointers in the first half, most of them rattling out, but a significant number of them were actually decent looks. If you want the Bucks to play faster, you need to settle for them potentially missing that volume of buckets from the perimeter. Indeed, it seemed prudent for them to do so given what their offense looked like when they wasted any amount of time on the shot clock. Sure, 3-14 (21.4%) isn’t what any fan wants, but nearly matching the number Boston chucked up in the half is what the Bucks should strive for. That trend continued throughout the night, as they put up 33 attempts and hit nine of them. Their attempts even eclipsed Boston, who shot 10-31 on the night. If anyone is frustrated by guys shooting that many threes that typically may not, they are tacitly agreeing to not be happy this team moves its shot chart into the modern era. Even with the poor shooting night, this is a trend that should be celebrated, and hopefully continued.
Whatever strength and energy Eric Bledsoe had as a defender in the regular season seems to have magically disappeared during these Playoffs. He has been rightfully maligned for his putrid offensive stats, eschewing efficiency or any sort of playmaking responsibilities for the most part, but tonight his complete lack of interest defensively gave up far too many open Boston looks. He looked lax playing off the ball and couldn’t power through screens, particularly important since the Bucks weren’t switching nearly as aggressively tonight as in some past games. In the second half, he could only stare as Jayson Tatum scooted past him to draw a foul at the bucket after Shabazz Muhammad gave everything he had to prevent being crossed up by Jaylen Brown at the free throw line. To be fair to him, he also had several impressive contests and blocks in the second half to bail out his teammates, but his overall performance was deplorable. The only place he wasn’t absent was the offensive end, where his single-minded play led to a brand of iso-ball entirely displeasing to the eyes, and Milwaukee’s productivity.
The Little Lineup That Nearly Could
Late in the fourth quarter, Joe Prunty opted to replace Thon Maker with Shabazz Muhammad, running out a lineup of Bledsoe-Middleton-Muhammad-Parker-Antetokounmpo. Quickly, they were able to capitalize offensively against Boston, showing impressive mettle defensively forcing them into tough shots despite the weak wing defenders they trotted out there. Unfortunately, they buckled a bit under the pressure as Jabari lost Brown on a baseline cut and they were able to penetrate into the paint. The Celtics re-established their lead, prompting Prunty to re-insert Maker. Muhammad also missed a corner 3-pointer during that time, bringing to mind the clutch shots Brogdon hit from thos same spots earlier this series. One has to question the choice to put in Muhammad, even with his offensive spurts, given his defensive question marks and the fact he had to turn into a playoff pumpkin at some point.
Bonus Bucks Bits
Brad Stevens started his chess match early tonight, swapping out Aron Baynes for Semi Ojeleye to start the game tonight, hoping the new insertion could slow down Middleton or Giannis and give them a jumpstart while Tyler Zeller still started for the Bucks.
Within the first three minutes, Eric Bledsoe had two possessions where he put on the blinders intent on trying to finish himself at the rim without an escape plan. His lack of patience this series, unless it involves dribbling out the clock for his own shot, has been detrimental far too often for the Bucks. The primary issue is that he didn’t involve or allow his teammates to help create an easier shot for him to get rolling. Playing in Boston has not been kind to Bledsoe thus far.
Marcus Smart came back for tonight’s game and within one minute he already got scrappy and snagged a steal on a lackluster pass from Delly to Giannis in the backcourt. He’s just as pesky as we all remember.
Milwaukee’s offense bogged down in the first with one too many midrange jumpers in the early going, although they got enough decent 3-point looks as the quarter wound down that their poor shooting (1-7) was what really held them back. Unfortunately, their defense didn’t show any of the stinginess it had in past games, as Boston was able to work the ball around to find their shots fairly simply as the Bucks looked helter-skelter again.
With Giannis on the bench to start the second, the Bucks went repeatedly after the Celtics switching Shane Larkin onto Khris Middleton. Midds took him to the paint whenever possible and used his height advantage for clear looks even as Stevens stuck with Larkin out there.
Milwaukee’s offense looked far more like Boston’s has in this series in the second quarter. They were forcing up tough looks as the clock wound down, with the Celtics snuffing out their roll men and mucking up the paint. Eric Bledsoe on one possession couldn’t quite snap off a pinpoint pass to Giannis and instead had to settle for a dish out to Thon for a late shot clock heave. It felt indicative of their struggles throughout, especially since they couldn’t take advantage of any Boston turnovers.
Prunty made a switch to the starting lineup to start the second half, astutely noting that Thon Maker had a greater impact containing the Celtics defensively. Additionally, Zeller’s weight wasn’t making a huge impact in the post to start the game. Smart move for a coach who I presumed might just stick with the status quo. Zeller didn’t even see the floor in the second half either.
Bledsoe and Rozier exchanged some choice words and started a bit of a physical tussle beneath the basket in the third. Their, admittedly silly, war of words finally spilled onto the court. I’d be fine with it if Bledsoe was playing anywhere near well enough to back up his colorful language. It led to Bledsoe receiving a Flagrant 1 and “Bledsoe Sucks” chants from the ever creative Boston crowd.
Shabazz Muhammad gave this team an impeccable shot in the arm in the third quarter, nailing 3-pointers (something no one else could do tonight) and showing nice chemistry with Giannis on timely cuts to the hoop. His scoring punch brought the game within four, but Boston responded with a 7-0 run.
People may be mad at Tony Snell for taking two consecutive corner 3-pointers on the same possession. Those people do not get to be happy when Milwaukee’s next coach has Snell shooting those exact same shots next year.
Jabari Parker deserves extra kudos for forcing out several offensive boards to keep a possession alive in the fourth quarter and then hustling back to bail out Giannis on a transition attempt for an a lay-in. He followed that up with another off. rebound that resulted in a dunk. His effort eclipsed almost anything I can recall from him in this series so far when he beasted past Jayson Tatum for a dunk that pulled the Bucks within four.
Quibbling with referee calls is not something I normally like to engage in, but I will say Al Horford clearly had the ball still in his hands on a shot clock violation in the fourth quarter that gave the Celtics possession again and a chance to run plenty more clock. The referees blew that one.
How can that missed 24-second call not be reviewed?— Danny Leroux (@DannyLeroux) April 25, 2018