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Outplayed: Milwaukee’s Indecisiveness Throws Boston Series Into Question

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Game 1 was a failure, but not quite a disaster.

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

It isn’t often that the Milwaukee Bucks get flat-out beat. However, in Sunday’s double-digit loss to the Boston Celtics, that’s exactly what happened.

The very first thing that needs to be recognized is that Boston came to play, played hard, executed their system well, and earned the Game 1 win. They did everything right, Brad Stevens managed the game well, and Boston deserves a ton of credit for it. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford were particularly crucial to the Celtics’ efforts, and there’s no indication that they aren’t up for repeat performances across this second round series. Sunday was everything that the pro-Boston crowd has been talking about, in terms of how the Celtics play their game.

Milwaukee did not lose this game for lack of trying. As maligned as the phrase is around these parts, they generally played with the requisite #EnergyAndEffort you’d expect from the NBA’s best team. If anything, they played with too much of an emphasis rather than remaining disciplined and playing within the system.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had a terrible game, his worst in a long time. Ditto for Pat Connaughton, who was relied upon (too?) heavily off the bench. Eric Bledsoe was largely invisible. Sterling Brown simply wasn’t able to keep up. Brook Lopez was rarely in the best spot for him to be. Khris Middleton, George Hill, and Nikola Mirotic were the Bucks’ best players; this on its own would not be a critical failure, were it not for the sheer number of teammates they were trying to make up for.

In Game 2, the Bucks will be better. They must be better. There isn’t much margin for error any longer for them not to be. But they cannot be goaded into playing on another team’s terms. They cannot accept shortcuts or practice bad habits. The “heroball” that pervaded the Bucks’ offense yesterday completely neutered the very thing that made Milwaukee a threat to get past Boston. Giannis’ decision-making was as poor as it has been in ages, but this play from Bledsoe is an encapsulation of what it feels like the Bucks are up against: themselves.

Perhaps it was nerves. Perhaps they got into their own heads. Perhaps the frustration of early difficulty presented by a physical Celtics team took over. No matter the cause, the solution is the same: return to the discipline that got you to where you are today. Make them adjust to you, not the other way around. And when the going gets tough, stay cool; avoid charging into three (or more!) bodies to try and make something happen at the rim. Move the ball, find the opening, attack under control. Leverage the math problem, even if it’s not going your way right now.

This is the time for Mike Budenholzer to show that he’s up to the task of taking this team where they’re capable of going. But it’s not a matter of adjusting the rotation (which should happen) or the scheme (which maybe could be tweaked), but managing the people, the emotional state of the locker room, and regaining buy-in where buy-in is needed.

The Bucks need to keep their head up, take the massive L that was delivered to them, and go about their business like they have all year. Bucks fans ought to do the same, and remember this: you have to drop two in order to get #BucksInSix.