As the Miami Heat await the winner of the Milwaukee Bucks-Orlando Magic first round series, Mike Budenholzer’s squad will try to reach the second round of the Playoffs for the second consecutive year. Game 4 wasn’t exactly the blowout the 121-106 final score makes it seem like, and Milwaukee still has question marks as Orlando continues to be a tougher out than I gave them credit for.
“Shoot the ball until his arms fall off.” If Khris Middleton suddenly turns into the flamethrowing dynamo he was for the regular season for the remainder of the postseason, those will be the words etched into Bucks’ fans lives for many years to come. After what seemed like yet another lackluster outing, Middleton went for 18 in the fourth quarter to put Milwaukee into a 3-1 series lead after their 121-106 victory. Of course, Giannis Antetokounmpo tacked on his usual 31 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists, but Middleton’s emergence was the story. Whether he can keep it rolling into this one will probably be foremost on Bucks’ fans minds.
Of course, foremost on many of the Bucks minds is likely the horrific shooting of Jacob Blake. The team put out a statement, Bud talked about it before Game 4 and George Hill was very outspoken over the issue. If you want to read more about the team’s response, Mitchell wrote about it yesterday.
In game terms, I’ll be curious to see whether Bud opts to roll out Ersan Ilyasova and forgo playing Robin Lopez altogether. Given the smaller lineups that could await the Bucks against Miami, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team acclimate to zero Robin minutes for round two.
Player to Watch: Eric Bledsoe
Having a sneaky okay series, his -16 plus-minus and 3-11 shooting performance in Game 4 obscure what seemed like a generally competent game from Bledsoe. He continues to blow up screens for the opponent and smartly provide late switching and help on bigs in the pick-and-roll. His defensive energy has fueled this team after some of their lackadaisical early showings, and he’s picked his spots offensively. Sometimes I wish those spots excluded the occasional early shot clock pull-up, but he shouldn’t be dissuaded from driving to the rim.
Who would’ve guessed they would give this Bucks team such a headache night after night? Particularly with their shorthanded nature, the Magic and coach Steve Clifford should be commended for their impressive grit. They’ve effectively walled off Milwaukee in transition, turning them into a lackluster fastbreak team and provided a decent enough test for Giannis and company in terms of busting down the wall and finding flow offensively. Those are practical exams to have for future rounds, where stout defense await across the remaining East teams. Even if the Magic bow out in this one, they can hang their heads high. They’re assuredly thinking of prolonging this series for one more game though.
Player to Watch: Nikola Vucevic
He’s been their star the entire series, averaging 29.5 points (7th in the Playoffs), 10 rebound sand 3.8 assists. He put the team on his back offensively, serving as their fulcrum at all levels of the defense. His 3-point shooting has stepped up, nailing 44.1% and hitting backbreakers that helped Orlando weasel their way back into Game 4. With no Aaron Gordon or Jonathan Isaac, Vucevic has had every opportunity to hoist this team up and he’s done more than they could’ve expected. Kudos to him.
Game 5: Against Orlando, the Bucks will...
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Win big (by 10 or more points)
Win close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose big (by 10 or more points)