Dysfunction makes for quality radio. It’s hella more fun to talk about a team destined for greatness going the way of the White Walkers than one operating with machine-like efficiency. There have been and will continue to be eulogies for the Boston Celtics‘ season that imploded in spectacular fashion at Fiserv Forum. Following Bud’s adjustments in Game Two, the crux of this series’ discussion has been an under-performing Celtics squad. That tired narrative clung to this NBA season like a burr to your pant leg. The Milwaukee Bucks couldn’t escape it either, but they did escape the second round, looking like the same sleeping dynamo they have all year. While Kyrie was busy poo-pooing his poo-poo performances, Khris Middleton explained what many seemed to be ignoring this series:
Khris Middleton asked how this year’s Celtics team is different than last year’s:— Jared Weiss (@JaredWeissNBA) May 7, 2019
“It’s not about them. It’s about us.”
Admittedly, kvetching about coverage from national media types is precisely what winds up getting fanbases mocked by said media. Typically, it’s not all that bothersome to me, but this Bucks team is quietly putting together a that may pose the greatest threat to the Warriors reign yet. Sure, it’s been a little about Kyrie missing shots, staid ball movement, open discontent among teammates and failure to capitalize upon collective talent. But it’s really been about Giannis Antetokounmpo making plays, the Bucks whirring offensive system, unbelievable locker room camaraderie and the collective raising the floor of each player’s individual talents.
Despite tailor-made storylines from Eric Bledsoe’s redemption, Pat Connaughton dominating his home state team, Malcolm Brogdon returning triumphantly and Giannis ascending, a majority of the coverage has and will be Kyrie-centric. Giannis is a generally unknowable superstar, who closes himself off to one-on-one story requests and requires MVP status to pass his strict no-social media guidelines. Kyrie is a walking, talking galaxy brain meme with pending free agent status. I get it, speculation and rumors are tastier snacks than the meat and potato breakdowns of blowout wins. But once Mike Budenholzer made adjustments, the Bucks story lines of this series receded to the background. People seemed intent on laying this defeat at the feet of the Celtics rather than in the hands of the Bucks.
The Celtics just weren’t hitting their shots. Never mind the fact Milwaukee had a worse effective field goal percentage (52%) on wide-open (6+ feet) shots than Boston (53.9%).
The Celtics have the superior talent, they just didn’t mesh. They sure meshed well in game one. It should say something that by the end of this series, Brad Stevens best hopes for adjustments were tossing in Semi Ojeleye and Aron Baynes. A swole, iffy shooter who barely played against the Pacers and a burly backup brute were their life rafts. Unsurprisingly, Bud’s Bucks ate them alive.
The Bucks don’t really have a player to guard Kyrie Irving. Besides one of the game’s premiere defensive point guards in Eric Bledsoe and an engaged George Hill that looks like he’s playing in Mirror Mode defensively.
You get the gist. There are plenty of excuses the Celtics could make, but many more rational reasons illustrating the Bucks’ dominance. Giannis struggled in game one, but he unlocked this entire series with his playmaking and selective aggression. Only Kyle Lowry, Draymond Green and Nikola Jokic averaged more potential assists in this second round. This pass, which went largely unnoticed by the TNT announcers once Kyrie had a shake-and-bake on the other end, is ludicrous.
Additionally, he had 1.6 secondary assists this series, meaning he made the pass before the pass that led to the made shot. Think of it as a hockey assist. That 1.6 figure is second-best in this semi-final round, indicative of the massive attention Boston paid him on the court while freeing up teammates for extra passes and prime looks. That vaunted Celtics pack-line defense in the paint? By the end of the series, Giannis carved it up to the tune of 68.1% on 9.4 attempts per game in the restricted area. Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving, he of the circus shot finishes, went just 55% in the restricted area compared to 62% in the regular season.
This series was about the collective, but it was also about Giannis vs. Kyrie, as many playoff battles can boil down to. Here’s a small, but enjoyable stat. While they only matched up (per NBA.com) in this series 34 total times, Giannis went 2-2 against Kyrie, while Kyrie went 0-6. Good luck to future teams trying to get your small guards to attack Giannis off the bounce. Kyrie garnered plenty of ire for his poor play, but Giannis’ potential ascendance as new King in the East took another step forward. Hopefully, his coronation will come with another series win.
As Bucks fans, we haven’t had to face this type of conundrum in awhile. For years, it was the plucky upstarts with a bright future. Now, we’re slaying NBA titans, and getting caught in the coverage crossfire as folks focus on a Boston collapse rather then the Bucks’ triumphs. We may see it for the entirety of this Bucks run too. All along though, we’ve known K-Midd was right. As the season progresses, we slowly saw that it wasn’t about anyone but the Bucks. They have the superstar talent. They have the picture perfect complementary cast. They have Moreyball math on their side. They have historic numbers.
People can keep discussing Milwaukee’s success in the shadows of other team’s failures as they like because the Bucks don’t need any bulletin board or whiteboard material. They wrote all the motivation they needed, in a nondescript corner, fittingly away from the spotlight.