Thon Maker and the Milwaukee Bucks went down in a playoff epic yesterday afternoon at Boston's TD Garden. A near half court prayer from Milwaukee wing Khris Middleton with 0.5 seconds left sent the game to overtime, before the Celtics eventually rounded out 113-107 victors.
The Bucks held a closed practice on Monday morning at the TD Garden, on a cold, wet day in Boston. The mood inside the facility was surprisingly vibrant. So upbeat in fact, that if you hadn't seen yesterday's result, you might have assumed they had indeed kicked the series off with a road victory.
Though clearly bothered by the loss, the team appeared ready to move on to Game 2, through not only hard work on the practice court, but by being loose and enjoying themselves. This included a special rendition of happy birthday for Bucks GM Jon Horst, performed by Bucks rookies DJ Wilson and Sterling Brown. Afterwards, reigning rookie of the year Malcolm Brogdon suggested Maker eat the entire cake himself, as he likely required the calories to bulk up.
Both Matthew Dellavedova and Thon Maker failed to see court time last night, as Bucks head coach Joe Prunty tightened his rotation to nine in game one. Both Dellavedova (ankle) and Maker (groin) have missed time recently through injury, but were available to play if called upon. In speaking with The Pick and Roll in the locker room post-game, Dellavedova confirmed he was feeling good and ready to go, “[There's been] no aggravation, I’m just going to go and get some work in [post-game]. I’ll be absolutely ready to go whenever my name is called.”
Maker was one of the last guys still out on the floor getting shots up, and spoke with The Pick and Roll about the importance of staying ready.
"You have to stay ready. I went out last night [post-game], got some shots up. Practice is my chance to get shots up with the guys and show I’m ready, I'm waiting for my chance."
Though Maker's role in the rotation has diminished post All-Star break, he appeared in all but two games before missing six straight with his groin strain in late March. In saying that, the DNP in game 1 did come as a minor surprise. Milwaukee's other back up centre, Tyler Zeller also saw a reduced role when the Bucks turned to two-time All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo, to play the five spot when starter John Henson rested. This came as a counter to Celtics coach Brad Stevens opting to go with Al Horford at centre ahead of Aussie Aron Baynes, who was similarly restricted to just 14 minutes despite starting.
This is Thon's second trip to the post-season after impressing in six playoff games last year. In that series against Toronto, Maker started all six games, averaging 19.3 minutes per contest. The then-rookie displaying an impressive presence at the rim, swatting 1.8 shots per game including a five block outing in game 6. That first NBA playoff experience not only whet the competitive appetite of Maker, but gave him the internal confidence that he belongs.
"The experience from last year's playoffs will help me. I’ve been there. Yesterday, just being on the bench and cheering the guys on, helping where I could, I was sweating!" He said with a big smile and a chuckle. "Playoff basketball is crazy, I’m just waiting for my opportunity."
The word that kept coming back to, was opportunity. Maker believes he can make an impact on this Milwaukee Bucks team right now, and his focus remains on ensuring he is in the best shape possible to do so when called upon.
Coming off a heart-breaking loss in Game 1, Maker and the Bucks are well aware it was an opportunity lost, but also know they have room for improvement heading into tomorrow night. Maker quickly narrowed it down to two key areas.
"We need to take care of the ball, because we turned the ball over a lot yesterday. The other thing we are focusing on are the [offensive] boards, because they did a great job of converting [their opportunities] on the other end."
Milwaukee committed 20 turnovers in Game 1, well up from their average of 13.8 per game during the regular season. On the glass, they were out-rebounded 42-45 in total, but lost the offensive rebounding battle 5-11, in which the Celtics were able to convert into 22 second chance points. Maker was adamant those issues will be rectified on Tuesday night.
"I thought it was a hard fought game, we’re feeling really good heading into Game 2. We know we’ll do a better job in those areas.”
From an Australian perspective, the Milwaukee/Boston series is a dream scenario. Three of the seven active NBA players are squaring off, with an opportunity to face Ben Simmons and the red-hot Philadelphia 76ers in the second round. As the Australian presence begins to grow in the Association, the chance to not only catch up with fellow Boomers, but play with them is increasing for these guys. But would Thon Maker have time to catch up with Aron Baynes during this playoff series?
“Not during the series, maybe afterwards. During the season the Aussie guys are in contact, we’ll go to dinner when in town and stuff like that. But through the playoffs it’s a little harder, you tend to stick with guys on your team." He explained. "He’s been playing well for them, and we’re going to be going head to head at some point [at center], so i’ll leave it until after the series. When this is all done, we’ll be together with the national team which I’m looking forward to."
Though the Australian contingent was not heavily featured in the playoff opener, the frenetic finish set the scene for what has the makings of a thrilling series. For Maker, Baynes and Dellavedova, it's all about awaiting that opportunity. Oh, and of course, staying ready.
Game 2 of the Boston Celtics vs Milwaukee Bucks series tips off Wednesday 1000hrs AEST, 18 April 2018.