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Milwaukee vs. Boston: Bucks Fight Hard, Falter Against Celtics

The Bucks dip back under 0.500 after falling short in overtime.

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Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

With Giannis Antetokounmpo abruptly joining teammates Brook Lopez, Donte DiVincenzo, and Khris Middleton on the injured list, the Milwaukee Bucks were depleted before last night’s game against the Boston Celtics even tipped off. However, the Bucks fought hard and managed to force overtime, where they ended up collapsing in TD Garden and falling to 6-7 on the season. Hello, below 0.500, my old friend...

What Did We Learn?

There is only so much that can be gleaned from a regular season game that had one side missing half of its presumed playoff rotation. The Celtics were missing Jaylen Brown, but the absence of Giannis and Brook and Khris completely changes the Bucks’ identity, whereas the Celtics were generally their usual selves.

Lopez remains out indefinitely (shout out to anyone fooled by the Bucks’ social media trolling) with his back soreness, and Middleton should (might?) be returning soon from his league health and safety protocols-mandated isolation. Giannis, curiously, was listed as probable with an ankle sprain before being ruled out for the Boston game, but he went through his normal pre-game routine despite not suiting up.

Was the ankle sprain really severe enough that Giannis had to sit? The official answer is “yes,” but the more likely truth is that Mike Budenholzer and the Bucks staff saw an opportunity in Boston to steal a game’s worth of rest for their superstar, who has been pulling double shifts in the team’s thin backcourt. Let’s face it: the Celtics do not have the optimal personnel to exploit size mismatches. It is not often a franchise will thumb its nose at the league office by sitting a marquee player on the road in a nationally televised game, but last night proved the Bucks are playing the long game, with a focus on availability in April, May, and June.

Three Bucks

Bobby Portis was a one-man frontcourt on offense, leading the team in both minutes (41:14 played) and scoring (22 points on 15 shots, including 9/11 on twos). Particularly in the first quarter, Portis used his soft touch in the midrange to get off to a fast start, as the switch-happy Celtics defense was all too happy to allow Bobby to shoot over a shorter defender. Considering Boston won the game, it clearly was a worthwhile gamble, as Milwaukee’s rebounding prowess sat in street clothes alongside Brook and Giannis (Boston won the battle on the boards by a landslide, 53-39).

Pat Connaughton is here to stay; even though he was right at home in Boston (where his family is from), this new and improved version of Planet Pat is a revelation for Milwaukee. Putting in 15 points on 10 shots (including a trio of triples) isn’t as impressive as how Connaughton came to those totals, doing far more on-ball work on offense, getting inside more, and all while playing out-of-position on defense. To start the game, Connaughton was the primary matchup on Al Horford!

Grayson Allen’s debut continues to trend positive, making up for whatever grudges Wisconsin sports fans might hold. With 21 points scored, on five makes from deep and 4-of-5 on free throws, Allen keeps showing how well he fits into the Bucks’ scheme on offense, even if Giannis isn’t there to create wide open looks with his gravity. Allen is launching 13.9 three pointers per 100 possessions, easily a career high in terms of volume and frequency (nearly three-fourths of Allens shots are threes). That he hits as many as he does (43.0% after the Boston game) is an impressive feat, considering the workload puts him just a tier below the league’s premier sharpshooters; all of Duncan Robinson, Donovan Mitchell, Buddy Hield, and Steph Curry are shooting more threes per 100 possessions at a lower rate of accuracy (none are currently above 40%). His defense is passable and his on-court behavior hasn’t reinforced his previous reputation, all of which points to a fifth piece that fits snugly next to the rest of the Bucks’ presumed playoff starters.

Bonus Bucks Bits

  • George Hill deserves mention, though his game was more uneven than his teammates. 16 points on 16 shots isn’t ideal, nor his going 2-for-9 on threes in 38 minutes of playing time. It’s not like the Bucks had a ton of options, and Hill still makes the right plays regularly...but a successful offense can’t rely on the dribble penetration of George Hill at 35 years old.
  • We haven’t talked about Jrue Holiday yet, and while he did capably set up buckets for teammates (13 assists on the evening), his 1-for-12 shooting performance (including missing his first ten threes) sticks out like a sore thumb. In a game that went to overtime against an Eastern Conference opponent, even a league-average shooting performance might have turned the result of this game in the Bucks’ favor. We know Jrue is prone to off-shooting nights...it still doesn’t make them fun to witness.
  • Semi Ojeleye made his first return to Boston as a non-Celtic, and his game was fairly nondescript. His lone field goal made came late in the fourth quarter on a hurried floater in the paint, and he did block a pair of shots, but there wasn’t much else to notice about his performance.
  • Thanasis Antetokounmpo somehow played fewer minutes than Rodney Hood (11:46 vs. 12:07), which is bizarre considering Thanasis is often slotted up to the 4 and sometimes plays as the nominal center. But then we remember how...erratic...Thanasis can be, and perhaps his low playing time was simply a safety precaution. Anytime Thanasis does something on the court, I’m reminded of Zach Lowe’s characterization of his game from this year’s League Pass rankings, where he wrote that Thanasis is “a bumper car playing his own hybrid of rugby and basketball. Whatever it is, you can’t take your eyes off of it.
  • Dennis Schroder got MVP chants from the Boston crowd during some free throws amidst his stretch of scoring in the overtime period to put the game out of reach. No, really. Dennis Schroder.

Bonus Bonus Bucks Bits

Our very own Van Fayaz happened to be in Boston tonight and attended the game. I’m happy to report that he was able to leave the arena unscathed (though the fabled Boston nightlife looms large), and I got a few in-arena insights from him.

  • Pregame: “The Celtics fans behind me are calling Romeo Langford “Rajon” or “Rondo” because he wears 9 on his jersey.”
  • First quarter: “I like Portis’ J tonight. He seems to have the touch going. Seems like Milwaukee can get inside tonight, but not because of the size advantage since they’ve given up a few too many offensive rebounds so far. The problem was conversion at the rim.”
  • Second quarter: “Jrue has been rough. Bricks and turnovers. But I just know he’s gonna make a huge three when it matters. Maybe more than one.”
  • Third quarter: “Brutal end to that third. Crowd here is very tired up. Some very nice passing down low for Boston and great finishing.”
  • Fourth quarter: “Yikes, just looked at my phone and saw Jrue’s shooting line. Somehow it’s worse than I thought.”
  • Overtime: “They were literally just doing the MVP chant for…

DENNIS

<redacted>

SCHRÖDER

I mean really?”

Editor’s note: apparently.


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