Here we are folks, the weekly/roundly last report card of the year before final grades. After a few days of rumination, my conclusions about the Boston series are pretty unchanged. Both Bucks fans and national voices are debating the finer points of rotations and strategy but missing the forest for the trees: without one of their three best players, the Bucks cannot and should not be expected to perform at their peak. They could have beaten Boston but not with personnel tweaks or broader schematic changes, especially when their problems were not defensive.
Individually speaking, looking at my previous writeup before this round it’s clear that Giannis met the goals I set out, while Jrue Holiday and Wesley Matthews did defensively. Bobby Portis and Brook Lopez failed to take advantage of their edge in size. Between Grayson Allen and Pat Connaughton, only one shot well from distance when the Bucks needed both to do so, but neither provided any creation. I ended with this:
If there’s ever a series where the Bucks don’t struggle with the three ball, this needs to be it. That seems like a lot that needs to go right, but as we recall from last year’s second round victory over the Nets, the Bucks do win even if not everything goes their way.
Welp, that first one sure didn’t happen. Still, the Bucks nearly eked out a victory despite a lot not going their way. Despite going seven games, the cumulative point differential suggests the series should have been at least a game shorter. For that, Milwaukee deserves plaudits.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: A (last round: A)
7 GP, 40.0 MPG, .457/.250/.676, 33.9 PPG, 14.7 RPG, 7.1 APG, 5.1 TPG, 1.0 SPG, 1.1 BPG
On the one hand, it feels insane to not give someone with a historically-great line (indeed one of the best seven-game series by anyone ever) anything less than an A+, even when factoring in five turnovers per night. Though many of those came from oft-dubious offensive fouls, it’s incumbent upon Giannis to play in control against smaller opponents who flop at many opportunities. Given that some refs (and both Van Gundys) don’t understand how to litigate his strength and default to giving the benefit to smaller, weaker players who can only stop him by hitting the floor (charge officiating really needs to be overhauled). On the other hand, there’s no denying this wasn’t Giannis at peak efficiency, given his relative struggles inside: he shot 64.7% within 5 feet of the rim, down nearly ten percent from his regular-season mark. Still, we’ll point to this series as the one which finally settled what should have been obvious to the casuals and media beyond Milwaukee last year, and that damn near was enough to prevail.
Jrue Holiday: B- (last round: B+)
7 GP, 40.5 MPG, .364/.300/.952, 21.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 6.3 APG, 2.0 TPG, 2.4 SPG, 0.7 BPG
I’ve written several times this season about the challenge Holiday faces performing on both ends in a given matchup. Channeling the energy to provide arguably the league’s perimeter best defense, his efficiency and shot conversion suffers, likely due to some leg fatigue. In the postseason, he obviously dips into those reserves more than in the regular season, where some saw his defense as less impressive. Over seven games against the same adversary, this becomes even more apparent. When he’s moved up a spot in the pecking order, these scoring woes are exacerbated. Entering the series, knowing Holiday would score 21 PPG certainly would elicit confidence... until you find out it came on 22 FGA/G. Outstanding and heady defense saves him from a C, no less his ball-hawking heroics at the end of Game 5. That is one of the best individual defensive sequences you’ll ever see.
Brook Lopez: C+ (last round: A)
7 GP, 26.9 MPG, .481/.077/.909, 8.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 0.6 APG, 0.9 TPG, 0.9 SPG, 1.4 BPG
As the series went deeper, the Bucks wisely looked to Lopez more for scoring and he largely answered the call. Seemingly by design, in Games 2 and 6 he was frustratingly uninvolved. Some say his effectiveness and playability waned once Robert Williams became unavailable for the Celtics. This is true enough: there were times (notably the end of Game 5) when Portis’ mobility in pick and roll coverage benefited the Bucks more. Nevertheless, Lopez was stout defensively all series protecting the rim and also on the boards. Only one three-point make is disappointing, but he didn’t hoist many up. I don’t think the matchup was terrible here by any stretch and if Bud drew up a few more plays for him inside earlier in the series, maybe Boston gets stretched a little thinner defensively.
Wesley Matthews: B (last round: A)
7 GP, 29.4 MPG, .333/.333/.857, 5.7 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.4 TPG, 0.6 SPG, 0.1 BPG
Spending most of his time on Tatum, it’s silly not to be pleased with Matthews’ efforts in corralling the Celtics star in multiple games this series. In comparing this performance with the oft-venerated P.J. Tucker matchup with Kevin Durant in last year’s second round, Matthews’ work holds up slightly better, though Tatum is not quite KD’s caliber (but no one is!) offensively. His heavy minute load speaks well of his conditioning and his success on the Celtics’ star wings continued through to Game 7. The importance of his work this season—no less when Khris Middleton hit the bench—should not be understated.
Grayson Allen: D (last round: A+)
7 GP, 26.4 MPG, .310/.208/.571, 5.0 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.9 TPG, 0.4 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Early this season, Allen thrived during stretches where both Middleton and Holiday missed time due to injuries or COVID. In fact, when the big three was fully healthy it often felt like his offense suffered. Obviously, his production didn’t rise to the occasion with an elevated offensive role the way it did in the first round. With the expectations ratcheted up, Allen’s shooting cratered and the disappearing act drew some Bryn Forbes comparisons (he’s a better overall player). I don’t think Allen is cut out for the role of a primary scoring option in a tough postseason series, which is fine when all others are healthy. Ideally, he is a shooter off the bench as he was in the Bulls series, relied on primarily for catch-and-shoot threes. Against the Celtics, he had to do that against a far superior defense, but even the open ones didn’t drop. Nevertheless, without one of Milwaukee’s primary creators, complementary players like Allen suffered given heightened defensive attention beyond regular season levels. That plus an elevation in their offensive role was too much for Allen and others to handle. It’s important to remember that this isn’t entirely their fault, though, so I apply some leniency here for a pretty bad series, especially when he was completely lost defensively. Why some fans are out for blood on underperforming role players after the Bucks nearly took this series I can’t quite understand: it was always unrealistic to expect them to solve the offensive woes. With Allen, it goes a bit deeper than it does with Portis and even Hill, though. Still, I dropped the grudge (and I’d argue mine was bigger than most) so why can’t others? It wasn’t enough for him to carry them over Chicago last round?
Bobby Portis: C- (last round: A-)
7 GP, 25.5 MPG, .394/.227/.923, 9.9 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 0.7 APG, 1.1 TPG, 0.6 SPG, 0.3 BPG
After a solid start to the series, Portis’ jump-shooting cratered at the time the Bucks needed it most. Unlike in last year’s latter rounds, we never saw him get on one of those heaters that carried the team through stretches without Giannis (of which there were a few). Beyond the three-point drought, his floater game and usual touch within ten feet also escaped him when Milwaukee couldn’t afford to lose anything. After nearly the entire season as an effective starter, it’s pretty disappointing that Portis became mediocre at best in recent weeks with an expanded role in the offense. As with Allen, this isn’t entirely his fault.
Pat Connaughton: B+ (last round: B)
7 GP, 29.3 MPG, .538/.424/1.000, 10.3 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.6 TPG, 0.4 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Outside of his Game 7 dud, Connaughton was the only Buck whose shooting showed up for this round. He also had quite a bit of success attacking the rim with a team-high 86.7 FG% within 5 feet on just 2.1 shots per game. This is a part of his game that gets a bit underused now that he’s a high-volume three-point marksman, so the few moments that he slashed were encouraging. I don’t think upping those attempts swings any results in the series, however. Offensively speaking at least, Connaughton was perhaps the Bucks’ second-best player this round and by far their most efficient with a 68.1 TS%.
George Hill: C- (last round: injured)
5 GP, 1.3 MPG, .200/.500/1.000, 1.0 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 0.6 APG, 0.2 TPG, 0.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Coming off a month-long injury absence, expectations were also a bit too high for Hill and unlike many fans, I’m not going to be hard on him here. While I don’t know if he’s washed given that Bud had no choice but to thrust him into rotation minutes against a top opponent, Milwaukee was never going to get much from him. Consistently switched onto Tatum, he did the best he could while giving up four inches, but those results were always bad. I will add, though, that he managed to force Boston into a whopping four offensive fouls during his first two games back. With how much the Bucks needed turnovers this series, that’s important. In the end, it’s disappointing how quickly fans turned on him this series and indeed all season. I find it pretty unfair how reactionary people are with older players who just returned to health—if it was even full health—like Hill, given his past success with the franchise.
Jevon Carter: C+ (last round: B)
6 GP, 7.8 MPG, .571/.500/1.000, 1.8 PPG, 0.7 RPG, 0.2 APG, 0.7 TPG, 0.3 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Let’s make one thing clear: playing Carter over Hill would not have changed this series positively. For one, given how often we saw Tatum cook Hill or shoot over Hill, do you really think someone three inches shorter was going to be more successful in such a matchup? Do you also trust someone who is a career 38.6% shooter to hit jumpers against that defense, when all of the Bucks’ established shooters outside Connaughton struggled so mightily? Beyond this shoddy reasoning as to why Carter deserved court time over Hill (or even Allen), he answered the call when needed early in the series before exiting the rotation in Game 3. Realistically speaking, the likelihood his presence changes any results in the latter game is remote, full stop.
Mike Budenholzer: B (last round: A)
3-4 W-L, 99.7 ORtg (8th), 108.8 DRtg (5th), -9.1 NetRtg (8th)
I will be forceful again here now that the “Fire Bud” bloviators are back: there was little more Bud could have done to change this outcome given Middleton’s absence. He adjusted in-series at appropriate times: first by sending Portis to the bench after Game 2, when Boston made mincemeat out of Milwaukee’s three-big starting lineup. Some called this a desperation move, though in a 1-1 series that’s a bit much, and the big man was -24.2 for the series and -26.2 after two games. In Game 5, he went switch-heavy as the Bucks’ defense keyed a furious comeback to take a 3-2 series lead. As Al Horford destroyed them in the fourth quarter of Game 4, he probably ought to have tried this then, especially after a similar Celtics’ late-game run nearly brought them down in Game 3 two days prior. As we should all acknowledge, the defense was not the issue in this series. Now, Milwaukee massively struggled in the half-court, but I objectively cannot place much blame on coaching here. For the most part, I thought they generated good looks, ones that a lesser defense than Boston’s may not have success thwarting. The culpability for missing these is more on the players than anyone (certainly not the coach) and you can only point fingers at the opponents so much. Without Middleton, we knew all along the Bucks faced an uphill battle offensively. To be crystal clear: taking this series to seven, never trailing, and being in a position to win at home in six is something to be proud of. Give Bud a lot of credit for this.
Incomplete: Thanasis Antetokounmpo (5 GP, 7 MIN), Jordan Nwora (5 GP, 7 MIN), Luca Vildoza (5 GP, 7 MIN), Rayjon Tucker (5 GP, 7 MIN), Serge Ibaka (2 GP, 3 MIN), Khris Middleton (injured)
Ineligible: Sandro Mamukelashvili, Lindell Wigginton
In the coming week, we’ll do a season-ending edition with final grades, where you’ll have a chance to grade each individual Buck on their 2021–22 efforts. Until then, let’s see what you have to say about the Boston series and put a bow on it. Milwaukee gets a B- in my book (which I think will be higher than the average score among readers), so for this edition, I’ll give you the chance to get more specific with your grade.
Editor’s note: the original poll contained a typo that may have skewed results, so a new poll is below.
How would you grade the Bucks’ performance in the second round?
This poll is closed
What are your individual grades? Let me know in the comments below.