MILWAUKEE – The Milwaukee Bucks hosted Game 1 of an NBA playoff series for the first time since 2001 at Fiserv Forum on Monday morning. They wasted little time furthering their title credentials, in a brutal beatdown of the Detroit Pistons.
Holding the best record in the NBA through the regular season, the Bucks recorded the third highest winning margin in franchise history, obliterating the Pistons, 121-86.
The game also saw the return of Thon Maker to Milwaukee, and the Australian could hardly contain his excitement pre-game, forgoing his usual routine of not speaking with the media, greeting local reporters with a broad smile and assorted high fives.
Trying to focus through the mental excitement of returning to the city where it all began proved to be a challenge for Maker, who holds great memories of the city.
“Just a lot of excitement. It’s tough to get all that excitement out because you aren’t playing anyone else before that, you don’t know ahead in the regular season who you are going to play,” Maker said.
“It’s just about being patient and not getting over excited, just relax and wait until the day comes. I just know it’s going to be a lot of fun. The guys, I’m excited to see them, the guys are excited to see me, all the staff members I’ve being seeing them down the hallway in the arena and it was so cool to see those guys, man.”
Given all the potential distractions at play, Maker knew staying focused on the task at hand would pose its own challenges.
“You know what, that’s the toughest part, because I’m thinking of staying in game mode and serious mode like my normal game mode.”
“Normally I wouldn’t do media before the game, but these are your people that I’ve been around for a while now so it’s tough, you are trying to focus. But at the same time these people miss you and you miss them also so it’s like, you are going to be a human at the end of the day but it’s fun, it’s cool.”
The pre-game adrenaline rush may have got the better of Maker, who picked up two fouls in the game’s first 74 seconds, as his former teammate and close friend, Giannis Antetokounmpo, attacked the paint with relentless aggression.
Team mates in Milwaukee for three years, Maker knew what to expect from Antetokoumpo, lamenting an early call that got things rolling for the MVP frontrunner and the Bucks.
“The second foul was a great play by him, the first foul, I didn’t think it was a foul. Hey, that’s a part of the game but I knew right away that was the best way he could make me ineffective, to get me in foul trouble,” Maker explained.
“That’s common of him trying to get his man in foul trouble but still, I’ve got to move my feet, and get into position early. After that, the rest will take care of itself.”
Maker would finish the game with just four points on 2-for-10 shooting from the floor, though he took some positives from his own performance.
“Maybe [I need to] lower the intensity a little bit, instead of being too overly aggressive. Other than that I thought I was doing a good job, just the hand part in terms of the fouls needs to be better. I’ll go back, watch film and see where I can make the adjustment.”
Despite the lopsidedness of the scoreboard, the game was physical at times, with the Pistons defense sending Antetokounmpo to the floor on multiple occasions. Maker quickly became a villain in the building he was once loved, committing a hard foul on Antetokounmpo that sent him falling to the floor hard on his shoulder.
The Fiserv Forum crowd showered Maker with boos, though the officials rule it a common foul.
“He did his job. It was a common foul and we play through it,” Antetokoumpo said post-game.
The Pistons were without Blake Griffin in the contest, who was unable to play with lingering knee soreness. With the multiple-time All-Star's status unknown, the series looks incredibly close to being over after just 48 minutes of play.
Going down early in a playoff series is familiar ground for Maker, who was on the Bucks squad who battled back from a 2-0 deficit to square their series at 3-3. Maker insisted the belief was still strong in the Pistons locker room, his trademark smile still shining as he was the last player left in the locker room post-game.
With just two days before game two, Pistons coach Dwane Casey knows adjustments are required.
“I have to make sure I prepare them better. It’s hard to just talk about it. You see how hard, how fast, how intense a playoff game is. I thought we picked it up eventually which is a positive,” Casey said.
On the opposite side, Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenholzer stressed on the importance of staying focused.
“It’s a good win for us. Now, we just have to be humble and get ready for the second game and take the focus into game two.”
The Bucks have now beaten the Pistons in all five meetings this season by an average margin of 18.8 points. With those numbers in front of you, one has to wonder if their best chance at stealing a game, is the Bucks losing that focus Budenholzer spoke of.
Game 2 between the Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons is on Thursday morning – Tip-off is at 10am (AEST).