The Milwaukee Bucks will enjoy the rest of these playoffs from their couches, as they fell apart in the Game Seven spotlight and lost 112-96 to the Boston Celtics. The Bucks looked all sorts of messed up as the first quarter proceeded, with the Celtics dominating them to take a 30-17 lead after one. Despite Giannis leaving the second quarter with foul trouble, Milwaukee cut into Boston’s lead and were down only 50-42 as halftime rolled around. What started as a promising third quarter torpedoed with the stars getting into foul trouble, and the Bucks fell behind 81-67 to start the fourth. Boston’s lead only expanded in the final stanza, even with an outburst by Khris Middleton down the stretch. Milwaukee will head into the summer still having not advanced to Round Two of the playoffs since 2001.
Three Main Observations
Frightened First Quarter
Milwaukee looked completely spooked in the first quarter, airballing shots and timidly attacking Boston’s defense. Eric Bledsoe looked like the only one interested in the moment before he stupidly pushed Shane Larkin and got a technical foul. They rushed their offensive sets, lost any semblance of communication defensively and didn’t look ready for the moment as the Boston boos rained down. It even prompted Prunty to insert the aged presence of Jason Terry back into the series after not making an appearance the last few. The spurt at the end when Boston rained hellfire on Delly and Tyler Zeller cost the Bucks dearly.
Bledsoe Finally Balls Out
Eric Bledsoe played the most daring basketball I’ve seen from him in the waning minutes of the second quarter after being brought off the bench with three fouls. Prunty’s risky play paid off, and Bledsoe seemed hell-bent on bruising his way through screens and sticking like flubber to Terry Rozier. While Middleton carried the offensive load in those minutes, Bledsoe’s defense also led to several blocks and disruptions at the rim. The fact he played so manically with those fouls either pointed to severe confidence or lunacy, but Milwaukee needed him out there with Giannis on the bench. Bledsoe kept up the aggressive attitude in the second half, but his defense started to become helter-skelter and he turned the ball over with silly mistakes while trying to force the issue. Ultimately, his peculiar disappearing act in this series was probably the primary reason Milwaukee lost, but he certainly wasn’t the primary reason for tonight’s depressing outcome. His 23 points on 9/12 shooting was far more in line with his play the last few months of the regular season.
Prunty’s Last Stand
Joe Prunty gambled one too many times tossing inferior players out on the court tonight. In the first quarter, he tried stealing several minutes with Tyler Zeller and Matthew Dellavedova on the court. That led to an incredible Boston spurt where they asserted complete dominance over the court, as Zeller went -13 in four minutes and Delly finished at -21 in just eight minutes. Later, Prunty tried the same to end the third quarter with a ragtag group including Parker, Muhammad and Delly defensively, a decision that paid no dividends and didn’t allow Giannis to snag any rest as he attempted to carry the offensive load. Additionally, the switching that helped Milwaukee back into this series completely disappeared tonight. Prunty going back on the lineup and strategic decisions that actually helped them back into this series was a dumbfounded choice that I certainly won’t miss next year under a new head coach.
Bonus Bucks Bits
Eric Bledsoe made the type of read we’ve hoped for him all series in the initial minutes, taking a defensive rebound and hurling a pass to Brogdon in the corner for a three that rattled out. He’s made that pass a few other times this series, often in clutch situations, but it was promising to see it so early. Thon Maker came in to finish it up with a thunderous dunk, but the more important part was seeing Bledsoe engaged in that fashion.
Brad Stevens opted to put Marcus Smart on Jabari Parker rather than Giannis while Khris Middleton was out of the game. Smart forced him initially into an airball jumper from the baseline, but it was an intriguing move considering it left Morris to stop Milwaukee’s best player. Giannis tried to command the ball on the elbow, but wasn’t able to get adequate into adequate isolation situations to take advantage of it.
Jayson Tatum worked the Bucks in the first quarter, schooling Parker with a shifty spin move and turning Tyler Zeller into glue at the top of the key. His calming demeanor despite his rookie status gave the Celtics instant offense while Horford or Brown rested.
For those that were calling for Delly to play more minutes in this series, please see the play near the end of the first as he struggled to dribble up the floor and just inexplicably lost the ball trying to trudge his way into traffic.
I was going to type that Eric Bledsoe may have been the best Buck in the first quarter, then he made the boneheaded mistake of pushing Shane Larkin late and grabbing a technical foul. It was a questionable call, but just an awful decision during a rough enough quarter.
Bledsoe picked up another tough call after getting himself rolling in the second to put him on the pine with three personal fouls. Part of it was some bullheadedness on his part though, as he clearly had a kickout to Middleton at the top of the key if he hadn’t been insistent on getting to the rack.
Giannis stupidly bumping Marcus Smart as he drove down the lane to pick up his third foul was a terrible decision forcing both he and Bledsoe to the bench for a brief spell. Marcus Smart’s annoying nature as a player remains unparalleled.
Jabari Parker’s defensive performance looked lax in the first half, getting worked in isolation and getting lost off the ball, but he was a necessary offensive spark with seven straight points while Giannis was in foul trouble for the second quarter.
Bucks getting killed on middle of the floor action tonight. Bigs are consistently in no man's land.— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) April 29, 2018
Eric’s astute observation was a consistent theme of the first half, with Horford in particular taking advantage of it by slipping behind botched pick-and-roll defense or inexplicably having space to get off a shot. It led to Boston leading at points in the paint at halftime 32-24 too.
Jaylen Brown left the game in the first half with a right hamstring issue, but he wasn’t able to play at all in the second half after trying to convince the trainers he could make do.
Khris Middleton’s creation to start the second half kept the Bucks offense in the game with Boston. Whether it was probing the interior, tossing pinpoint passes to Giannis awaiting in the post or working Boston defenders with his patient post moves, Middleton’s offensive emergence after a quiet first half was necessary. Middleton deserves props for putting up a stellar performance in what looked like a lost cause for the final minutes.
I know Jason Terry’s plus-minus was far better than Jabari’s tonight, but I have no idea why he was playing over Tony Snell tonight. He offers zero switchability on defense and has barely shot at all offensively. Here’s a clear illustration of why I wish Prunty had stuck with the rotations that actually got Milwaukee back into this series the past few games.
Bucks need to go back to switching. Can't do that as much with Terry on the floor, and even without a screen he'll get totally cooked by Rozier #TwitterNBAShow https://t.co/sbK48cWc6L pic.twitter.com/A6yueMpEi8— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) April 29, 2018
Joe Prunty trying to steal two minutes at the end of the third with a Delly-Terry-Muhammad-Parker-Giannis lineup in a Game Seven is ridiculous. The fact Giannis was the one who made the horrific mistake of fouling Morris on a 3-pointer makes it bad, but this was an almost inexcusable choice by Prunty.
Malcolm Brogdon, quasi-hero of Game Six, was a relative no-show tonight. His drives were either halted at the rim or resulted in turnovers while his shot was off the mark all evening en route to just two points on 1-8 shooting. Another case of Milwaukee’s role players turning into pumpkins the minute they crossed state lines this series.