MILWAUKEE – We are two games down in the second-round playoff series between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics, and the average winning margin is 21.5 points.
Despite the lopsided results in these two games, the series remains delicately poised as the Bucks staved off a potentially fatal 2-0 deficit, blowing out the Celtics 123-102.
A blistering 39-18 third quarter set up the win, with the benches emptying over the final five minutes as the focus shifted to Boston, where the series will move for Games 3 and 4.
The Bucks big three of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe combined for 78 points, while Boston star Kyrie Irving was held to just nine points, his lowest playoff point total since May 14, 2015.
Australian, Aron Baynes, questionable before the game with an ankle sprain, was declared healthy, though he once again saw limited time on the floor.
Baynes would come off the bench for the second straight game, registering 10:07 of playing time.
Pre-game, Celtics coach Brad Stevens spoke about Baynes’ role in the series with Marcus Morris starting, and the Celtics’ trend of playing smaller lineups to counter the Bucks’ floor-spacing big men.
“[Baynes will play] as a backup to Al [Horford], and obviously he will rotate off of Giannis and their other bigs, so he’ll have to guard everybody and their other bigs make it hard, because they stretch the floor so much out to 28 feet,” Stevens said.
“[Brook] Lopez, [Nikola] Mirotic, [Ersan] Ilyasova are all comfortable shooting well behind the three-point line so he’ll have to guard some of those guys at times, but he will probably be more of a back-up on Giannis.”
Baynes would indeed serve as the primary reserve tasked with the unwelcome job of slowing Antetokounmpo down, a matchup the Greek Freak appeared to salivate over.
Antetokounmpo would draw two shooting fouls on Baynes in the first 1:56 the big man was on the floor. This set the tone for the evening, as the expected MVP continuously charged at the Australian with aggression each time he was in his path.
Baynes gather four fouls in his limited court time, all of them coming on Antetokounmpo, though he wasn’t alone in struggling to contain the Bucks’ star, who finished 13-for-18 from the free-throw line in his 29-point night.
Milwaukee were continuously able to harass the Celtics into contested jump shots, opting to switch on defence through positions 1-4. Boston finished 34-for-86 (39%) from the field, with Irving’s 4-for-18 night highlighting the struggles.
Budenholzer praised his squads improved defensive intensity post-game, pointing to a few key areas that allowed them to open up the game winning lead in the third period.
“The third quarter, maybe it was just a little bit of wearing them down or whatever it is, but we stuck to what we were doing,” Budenholzer said.
“Our guys were able to create some turnovers, create some misses, take care of the boards and get out and run. I thought the defence from the beginning was quality.”
As far as Irving was concerned, the responsibility fell on his shoulders, unhappy with his decision making as the game began to slip away.
“I feel like we paced the game pretty well, but like I said it starts with the example of me getting down in the paint and making the right reads and I failed to do that tonight,” Irving lamented.
“That responsibility falls on me in terms of just controlling the tempo a lot better. They were getting out in transition, they made plays, but there were examples in the game where I could have slowed us down and just got us into sets that we’ve gone to and attacked the switches, espeically when Khris and Nikola Mirotic are switching on to me, that’s something like, I’ve just got to go by them.”
It was an impressive response from a Bucks team that in some circles had been written off after Game 1. A smiling Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Bledsoe walked to the podium post-game, echoing their pre-game thoughts that one bad performance would not derail their season.
“It’s just one game. That’s the thing we told ourselves after Game 1, when they beat us by 20. At the end of the day, we’ve only lost one game. It’s the same situation, no matter the points,” Middleton said.
There was a sense of calm in both locker rooms post-game. Boston preached the need to get back on track. Milwaukee stressed the importance of staying humble and bottling up their feverish energy from the win.
After the first two games, what’s in store at Boston is anyone’s guess, but the one thing we did learn tonight in Milwaukee: we officially have a series on our hands.
Game 3 between Boston and Milwauee is on Saturday morning. Tip-off is at 10:00am (AEST).