Back on track. After playing like the Milwaukee Bucks of 2001-2018, the number one seed looked like themselves again in a beatdown of the Boston Celtics, 123-102. It didn’t look like it was going the direction it went from the start, but it was another tale of two halves like it was Sunday. Milwaukee’s starters were effective, Coach Bud actually made a few major adjustments, and the Celtics offense had trouble figuring out the evolved Bucks’ defense.
The Bucks started the game where they left off from game one. Horford had Giannis on a leash, turnovers were abundant, and basically anything else that went wrong kept happening for a good part of the first half. It was very obvious the jitters were a major part of the poor play for Milwaukee. While they were only up four at half, you could tell there was a different feel to the team. They started to find consistency in defending Kyrie and the pick and roll which gave them more confidence to fly around.
By the time the third quarter rolled around, the lead started to build. The Celtics went on an incredibly cold streak, scoring four points in a seven minute stretch which resulted in a 25 point lead for the Bucks after the third. Starters were on the court for a small portion of the final quarter but the bench units got most of the minutes to close it out.
There’s a lot to unpack with this game. First, the adjustments from Mike Budenholzer gave me a sigh of relief. Milwaukee came out switching on every screen except with those involving the center and even started Nikola Mirotic over Sterling Brown for a bigger lineup. Boston had a much more difficult time finding the shots they got in the first game and as a result became frustrated much like the Bucks were Sunday.
Khris Middleton. That’s the whole analysis. That name is why the Bucks won this game. Don’t be fooled, the entire team played extremely well. But Khris was the ONLY Buck to play the entire game at 100%. He kept the team in it in the first half with 20 points on 5-7 from deep and got the offense rolling that put the game away. He finished with 28 on 7-10 from three and looked like a guy who deserves max money this summer. Side note, it was reported today that the Mavericks intend to pursue him after the season. So let the fun begin.
Giannis had a much better game this time around. Al Horford proved to still be a problem but, with the help of his teammates, found a way to get momentum going towards the rim and complete plays. It helped that officials sent him to the line much more frequently, but that’s all part of the game. Giannis finished with 29/10/4/2 steals and hit a pair of threes. Hopefully this gives him the confidence he needs to keep the entire squad rolling into Boston.
Milwaukee’s defense was truly suffocating. After a 26 point game from Kyrie in game one, the Bucks held him to just 9 on 4-18 shooting. Al Horford was still a force and Marcus Morris had a productive game, but outside of those two guys, Boston had nowhere to go when they needed it most. The super-sized lineups from the Bucks was too confusing to adjust to in just a single game.
While all of this is good and dandy, game one still happened. The home court advantage is now gone and one of the next two in Boston needs to be won by the Bucks to have a realistic chance at getting to the conference finals. We’ve now seen the relative best and worst of each team. It’s just a matter of which form shows up Friday and which can get it going when the other can’t. It’s a seven game series. A lot can happen. For Bucks’ fans, this was the best possible outcome. At least we can all sleep easy for one night.