Bucks Grind Out Game 3 Win, Get Back in the Series

They did it the hard way, that’s for sure. But they needed this win badly and they got it. That’s all that matters.

The Bucks could’ve put this game away early when they were up 30-9, but they let the Nets climb back into it in the second quarter.

I mean the Bucks started this game out basically the same way the Nets started out game 2 in Brooklyn: an onslaught of scoring in an attempt to simply bury the other team early and never look back.

But the difference between the Bucks falling behind by 20+ early and the Nets falling behind by 20+ early is that the Nets can score so much and so quickly that they’re never really out of it.

KD and Kyrie might be the two best “Get A Bucket” players in the league. In terms of dudes who have all the tools and can beat you in so many ways, I really don’t know if there’s anyone better than them.

For the modern NBA, this game was insanely low-scoring. It was like one of those mid-2000s Pistons-Spurs games that ended with neither team breaking the 90-point mark. The Nets shot 36% from the floor and the Bucks shot 38%.

The Nets were 8-32 from three, but the Bucks were just 6-31. So while for the Nets you can say, “Well they normally don’t shoot this bad,” you can also say the same for Milwaukee. I mean, Milwaukee was up 30-11 at the end of the first quarter and finished the game with 86 points! In the ensuing three quarters, Milwaukee scored 15, 22 and 19 points respectively. Milwaukee’s shooting from the field by quarter goes as follows, starting with the first and ending with the fourth: 12-21, 6-22, 9-21, 7-26. Outside of the first quarter, that’s a combined 22-69 from the floor, or 31.8%. Outside of the first quarter, Brooklyn actually outscored Milwaukee 72-56. So while you can definitely say Brooklyn will be better next game, you can also say the same about Milwaukee.

But this is the kind of game you love if you’re a basketball fan. At least I do. I love “grind it out” games where points are at a premium. All those missed shots in the 4th quarter while it’s tied or within one possession–it just amps up the intensity and suspense because the longer the game goes without a bucket, the more it will mean when one team eventually hits one.

Obviously the Bucks had to have this one being down 2-0 in the series. You cannot go down 3-0. Giannis would have gotten absolutely berated by the sports talk media. At least this will quiet the critics for a few days.

Khris Middleton had 35 points and 15 rebounds on 12-25 shooting. He was THE GUY in that game, and you love to see it out of him. A lot of people knock him and say he shouldn’t be an All Star, and that he’s a fraud, but frauds don’t drop 35 & 15 in the playoffs and hit big shots down the stretch.

Late in the game, the Bucks’ offense went through Middleton. Giannis was almost a non-factor. And while Middleton had a great game, you cannot expect him to go shot-for-shot with Kevin Durant for the rest of this series. KD didn’t have a great game efficiency-wise (11-28 from the floor), but he hit all the big shots down the stretch when he had to. Because he’s Kevin Durant: that’s what he does.

The Bucks just don’t have a guy who can be their Get A Bucket At Will guy. At least not every game. Middleton was that guy tonight, but can he be that guy consistently? I don’t know.

It’s just maddening to watch the Bucks play sometimes. Because you know they can be dominant and blow teams out of the water, and then other times they look apathetic and completely lost–like they have no idea what they’re supposed to be doing out there.

They just showed us they belong in this series, but it took their backs being against the wall for them to actually play with some real urgency.

I like their talent, but I’ve just never been sold on Coach Bud. He’s a great regular season coach, but he’s never been able to get it done in the playoffs. I agree with Matt’s take here:

To me, this comes down to coaching. If you’re Mike Budenholzer, you cannot be getting out-coached by Steve Nash, a rookie head coach. You can get out played by Brooklyn’s superstars, that’s fine–that’s expected. But your edge should be in coaching–you have the experience, Brooklyn doesn’t. I know Brooklyn has Mike D’Antoni on the staff, and I’m sure he’s a huge help for Steve Nash, but come on.

Maybe part of it is Giannis: I feel like he shrinks in the playoffs sometimes, especially in big moments. He was great in the first round against the Heat when things were easy, but now that things are hard, against Brooklyn, it feels like he’s kind of shying away from the action at times. Maybe he loses confidence in his game, I don’t know. But I’m just waiting for him to go BEAST MODE and start bodying fools left and right, and it doesn’t happen. He can absolutely terrorize dudes. But he goes long stretches where he just, I don’t know, doesn’t.

Middleton was THE guy for the Bucks down the stretch of the game, not Giannis. Jrue Holliday hit the go-ahead shot. And that’s why despite the MVPs and the DPOTY award, people just don’t see Giannis as a Big Time Player. Because he doesn’t have those signature moments in Big Time Games. He’s not the guy who you know is taking the final shot late in games. He’s not getting the ball in iso, clearing everyone out and going for the win. Part of that is just that his game isn’t really suited to that, but I think part of it is mentality.

I just wish he was more of a killer, you know?

He just hasn’t had that Force of Nature game in the playoffs where he singlehandedly wins the game for his team and does whatever he wants. Luka had like 5 or 6 of those games in the first round against the Clippers–where he was just so good it didn’t even matter what they did, he was in complete control and he was going to just abuse any and everyone you put on him. Very few guys in the history of the game are even capable of having these Force of Nature games, but given all the awards he’s won, Giannis should be capable.

The thing that makes a true superstar vs. just a regular star-level player is that true superstars bring it every single night. You can’t take nights off if you want to be considered a true superstar. That’s why when Giannis has a performance like game 2, 8-15 from the floor for 18 points, people are scratching their heads. If you’re a superstar, you cannot be MIA for entire games. You can’t just fade into the background.

Now, that said, he had a tremendous game tonight: 33 points and 14 rebounds on 14-31 shooting, and was +5 while he was on the floor. So it’s not like he laid an egg again.

He and Middleton, with their 68 combined points, scored 79% of the Bucks’ total points in that game. That’s just absurd. Jrue Holliday’s 9 points were the next highest on the team, meaning the remaining 5 players on Milwaukee who got major minutes scored a combined 9 points.

At the end of the game, when Brooklyn had that botched attempt at the game-winning shot, when the shot missed and PJ Tucker got the rebound, he quickly handed it to Giannis and the Nets fouled him. My first thought was, “Noooooooo……” because I know how bad Giannis is at shooting free throws, but luckily the Nets still had a foul to give and it didn’t send Giannis to the line. They then had Giannis inbound it (smart) and he found Middleton, an 88% free throw shooter, who hit both the free throws to ice the game–or at least put Milwaukee up three. Durant actually almost hit that last desperation three, which would have been outrageous.

So the Bucks are back in the series. Game 1 was close (at least until the last several minutes of the third quarter when the Nets pulled away), Game 2 was a beatdown, and now Game 3 was close. I really think Game 1 could’ve gone either way, but the Bucks just couldn’t hit any shots.

I still have the Nets taking this series, though. They have the best player in the series (KD) and the third-best player in the series, Kyrie. However, if Middleton keeps playing like this (i.e. better than Kyrie), then the Bucks actually have a chance here.

I just have a feeling they’re due for a let-down in game 4. I can see them getting blown away again. I just don’t think this Bucks team has the ability to win four games against these Nets. Now that they got this win, they should definitely have the confidence to say, “We can beat these guys.” But I just don’t see them winning three games before the Nets win two. It’s a tall order.

But they showed us a lot in getting this win.

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