NBA Playoffs 2018, Milwaukee vs. Boston: Turnovers Cost Bucks Game One

It may have been a winnable game thanks to a miracle shot, but the Milwaukee Bucks hit plenty of other stumbling blocks along the way to a 113-107 overtime loss in Game 1 against the Boston Celtics. Milwaukee opened up a lead with just a few minutes left in the first, but coughed it away to allow Boston to regain control, 29-17 after one. The Bucks bombshelled Boston early and often in the second, as a horrific shooting quarter for the C’s helped Milwaukee stake a 47-44 advantage at half. Boston bounced back in the third, and a late Khris Middleton baseline jumper brought the Bucks to within 70-66 as the third quarter ended. A back-and-forth finish featuring a dagger stepback by Rozier with just 0.5 seconds left seemed to doom Milwaukee. Then, Middleton swooped in with a hail mary deep three that just left his hand in time to send it into OT. Milwaukee tried its best to keep it close in the extra period, but after both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe fouled out, the Celtics prevailed.

Main Observations

Khris “the savior” Middleton

Khris Middleton was the hero most clearly for his regulation ending, game-tying shot. But, his consistency throughout the game, with his typical diet of difficult jumpers swishing in, kept an occasionally stagnant Bucks O from turning into a glacier. He also seemed more than willing to rifle from deep, going 5-7 on the afternoon. Sure, he may have made some curious shot decisions in overtime, but his breakout game meant the Bucks had a chance to overcome their own shortfalls today.

Rotation Rations

Joe Prunty chopped down the rotation, playing only nine men in the first half, but it seemed foolish to only play Giannis 18 minutes when he was decimating Boston at every turn. Both John Henson and Khris Middleton logging more minutes than the Bucks’ star in a half seemed foolhardy. Thankfully, he played him nearly the entire second half, slipping him out late for a smart bit of extra rest as the third quarter ended. He needed it too when Prunty when to a Center-Giannis lineup to close the game.

Giants Grapple

Giannis Antetokounmpo versus Al Horford in the post is going to be by far the most entertaining matchup of this series. Both of them are equally tenacious trying to snag pole position in the post and the refs letting their physicality go made for a far more entertaining grapple. Horford struggled a bit initially preventing Giannis from having his way driving to the hoop, but he still managed to get a hand in there a few times to disrupt his rhythm. Giannis, meanwhile, was not going to let Horford back him down any further and forced him into in-between shots rather than right beneath the rim. Even Horford’s transition D was troubling to Giannis though, like when he stuck with him on a potential breakaway in the third only to deter him at the rim. Giannis got payback with his quick hands to force a steal in crunch time before Horford fouled him. When Boston goes with Horford at the five and Prunty counters with Giannis there, it’s going to be an intriguing chess match.

Playoff Jitters

Eric Bledsoe’s first return to the playoffs since his Clippers days was a horrid affair. His fifth foul early in the fourth forced Prunty to play Jason Terry far more than a 40-year-old should be playing in a playoff game. Not to mention the fact he had five turnovers and fouled out. Bledsoe might be Milwaukee’s biggest positional advantage over the Celtics, they need him to perform more consistently and prevent Terry or Delly from having to share more floor minutes as Brogdon still works his way back. The more glaring issue for young playoff appearances today though was Jabari Parker. Parker looked completely lost defensively while offensively his game seemed entirely out of rhythm with what the Bucks were trying to do. He seemed intent on going one-on-one rather than utilize his teammates. Dean Maniatt illustrates his ineptitude while on the court.

Bonus Bucks Bits

Boston ending the first quarter on a 15-0 run didn’t portend well for Milwaukee’s chances, but Giannis’ re-entry in the second helped spur a considerable surge, supported in part by Brogdon’s playmaking in transition.

Giannis could not be impeded driving to the hole as Milwaukee went into the second quarter. His relentless transition attack didnt let Boston get set and even if they did, his pop shot in the paint was working for him today.

Milwaukee’s defensive strategy of giving Middleton a breather on Ojeleye or Morris while allowing Brogdon the hard work of matching Brown or Tatum gave Middleton a chance to try more on the offensive end. Meanwhile, Brogdon looked gassed at points, even airballing a 3-pointer from the corner. However, his playmaking was sorely needed with Bledsoe in foul trouble.

Henson pass du jour, if he’s gonna be successful this series, passes like this out of the high post are a necessity.

The Bucks were decimating the frigid cold shooting Celtics in the second, but Khris Middleton’s aggressiveness driving to the tin as opposed to pulling up against both Brown and Horford in one-on-one situations worked well to keep the Bucks flowing when their transition game slowed down. It also seemed a bit ill-fated when he continued demanding the ball as the half wound down rather than giving Giannis a chance to attack once he returned from the bench.

John Henson (dare I say Playoff Henson) showed up in the first half tonight, recording four blocks and generally being a menace for any Celtic looking to reach the hoop. He opened the second half with this beaut too:

Milwaukee ran tony Snell off a screen in the third quarter to get him free for a shot, and it felt like the heavens finally opened up. Sure it was a long two, but I’ll take it. The fact he followed it up by sticking with Tatum defensively and blocking him at the rim was gravy. Milwaukee needs to leverage him more in that way offensively, slinking him around screens so he can pop a shot off quickly.

Not that Tyler Zeller offers much defensive resistance, but you could tell John Henson’s impact at the rim waned as the second half wound down. Prunty decided to ride Henson almost the entire final two quarters until he went small with Giannis at the five. It seemed like Henson could’ve used a spell to revitalize for the final push.

Milwaukee went small for several of the final minutes, finally pulling Henson and rolling with Snell, Middleton, Bledsoe, Brogdon and Giannis. While it led to some frustrating fouls, overall it seemed to help Milwaukee offensively and defensively. Their floor spacing seemed sublime, while the Celtics seemed suffocated. Boston bailed themselves out with hyper difficult shotmaking and rebounds that happened to luckily carom out to them. Prunty should not take a page from Kidd’s book and let the fact they lost overshadow the fact that lineup needs to see the floor more.

Eric Bledsoe’s no, no, no, YES play in the fourth where he let the ball roll before picking it up at halfcpurt and blasting past Rozier set my lifespan back a few years.

Milwaukee’s 20 turnovers, leading to 27 Boston points, really cost them a shot at stealing an away game to start this series. As Alex Boeder pointed out, that level of gaffes was rare for this team.

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