The Milwaukee Bucks have a pulse. Khris Middleton—with a game-high 35 factors and 15 (!) rebounds—lastly appeared just like the mid-range murderer he’s, whereas Giannis Antetokounmpo was a clap of thunder in transition who wreaked havoc as a roll man all night time lengthy.
In the meantime, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving mixed to shoot 20-for-50 from the ground, and the Nets solely generated 85.6 factors per 100 possessions within the 86-83 loss on Thursday. That’s the second-worst offensive ranking they’ve had all season. (They had been much less efficient in a March 24th loss against the Jazz, in a sport the place Tyler Johnson, Jeff Inexperienced, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Joe Harris and Bruce Brown had been the beginning 5.)
All that mentioned, the truth that Milwaukee escaped with solely a three-point margin of victory is worrisome. They don’t have any alternative however to view Sport 4 as one other should win. Listed here are a number of extra ideas on every little thing that simply occurred:
Lastly, Mike Budenholzer stopped messing round
In crucial sport of their season and some of the pivotal contests he might ever coach, Mike Budenholzer didn’t sub Giannis Antetokounmpo out of Sport 3 till there have been 53.4 seconds remaining within the first quarter. This was noticeably out of step with Antetokounmpo’s regular substitution sample: Except for Sport 2’s humiliating loss—when he first left the game with 2:21 on the clock—the Bucks’ sturdy franchise pillar will usually catch a fast blow proper across the first quarter’s midway level, then re-enter shortly earlier than the second quarter begins.
It’s been that means in every playoff game of the Budenholzer era, a routine level of rivalry that understandably frustrates and confuses those that don’t perceive why a wholesome, bodily match 26-year-old can’t play over 40 minutes whereas the opponent’s older stars do exactly that.
However in Sport 3, the Bucks held a 30-9 lead when Antetokounmpo first sat. He completed with 43 minutes, his third-highest total in a playoff game since Budenholzer grew to become his head coach. And the required desperation was felt elsewhere, with Middleton logging 44 minutes and Jrue Vacation solely resting for two.5. (With Vacation on the bench to start out the second quarter, Bud reacted to a tricky Irving pull up over Middleton by instantly inserting his lockdown level guard again within the sport.)
For the Bucks to win this sequence, these three must carry a humongous load, in monstrous minutes. This roster is…not deep.
Brook Lopez: The Present and the Curse
Talking of not being deep, Budenholzer’s resolution to trip Brook Lopez within the fourth quarter with their season on the road was a precarious one, particularly as Durant began to assault the large man’s patented drop protection with one off-the-bounce jumper after the subsequent.
The Nets took benefit of Lopez’s stiff legs with a barrage of excessive pick-and-rolls—largely with KD, however Irving ate as effectively. Bruce Brown had a ton of success as the rolling screener on these performs within the first half, walloping the Bucks together with his giant-killing floater.
As an alternative of going small and transferring Giannis to the 5, and even asking a faster Bobby Portis to discourage large open leap pictures from top-of-the-line leap shooters in basketball historical past, Bud saved Lopez on the courtroom and rolled the cube, taking part in percentages he apparently felt had been in his crew’s favor. Name it cussed if you’d like. (I’ve.) However on this particular sport, it labored.
Lopez acquitted himself down the stretch. Not solely did he make one of many extra necessary defensive performs of his profession, racing step-for-step from the sideline to the rim with Brown to change what would’ve been a go-ahead layup with 5 seconds to go, however in the previous few possessions he positioned himself a number of ft increased on the ground to make any pull ups from Durant or Irving that a lot more durable than they had been earlier within the sport.
The air house was tight, and on a pair late possessions when the ball ended up in Brown’s fingers, Lopez gave a powerful contest on those self same floaters that all of a sudden wouldn’t drop. He additionally helped means out on the ground to remove what may’ve been a wide-open three by Harris (who launched 11 pictures and missed 10), then scampered again to dam Brown’s shot within the paint.
When the Bucks have the ball, no person on the Nets cares about Lopez, and the Bucks don’t give them any purpose to. He scored three factors and couldn’t even house the ground on numerous Antetokounmpo drives that had been met by three or 4 black jerseys within the paint. Lopez solely grabbed one offensive rebound and, regardless of being guarded by a lot smaller defenders for a lot of the sport, by no means as soon as took any of them into the publish.
He blocked six pictures and moved about as effectively as anybody may ask him to when the Bucks wanted him most. However possibly it’s greatest to see this efficiency as Lopez’s final stand. If Milwaukee really does win an NBA championship and even attain the Finals, it feels much less and fewer possible that their beginning middle shall be on the courtroom within the minutes that matter most.
Giannis three pointers…
…have to cease. He took eight of them on this sport. Seven didn’t go in. All had been off the dribble. All had been gross. Why they preserve occurring is likely one of the largest mysteries in these playoffs.