MILWAUKEE – Twenty-four last shots for the 24 minutes played by Bucks center Thon Maker in Milwaukee’s 116-92 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
1. The widely used cliché around the NBA is that role players preform at a higher level when they play at home, especially in the playoffs.
2. That could not have been more accurate on Friday night for the Milwaukee Bucks. Thon Maker, Matthew Dellavedova, Jabari Parker, and Eric Bledsoe looked like entirely different players inside the friendly confines of the BMO Harris Bradley Center than they did inside the TD Garden.
3. Dellavedova and Maker combined for 5:34 of time on the floor in the first two games of the series. Both players did not leave the bench in Game 1. Dellavedova saw 4:34 in Game 2, with 3:34 coming while the outcome was still in doubt. Maker checked in during Game 2 with 1:00 left on the clock and the Celtics holding a 118-104 lead.
4. On Friday night, those two were two of the first three players off the bench for Milwaukee with Parker being the other. All three had positive impacts that they had not had in Boston.
5. In fact, Parker complained to the media that he didn’t feel he was getting enough playing time in the first two games. He had played just under 25 minutes in those two games combined. Friday he was on the floor for 30. Parker had been unable to find a rhythm offensively and was a liability defensively in Boston.
6. In Milwaukee, Parker was a force offensively and serviceable defensively. He finished with 17 points on 7-of-12 from the floor. He also collected five rebounds, a pair of assists, a steal, and two blocks. It’s only been three games, but this was by far the best performance of his playoff career.
7. The effort Parker gave the Bucks in the win was one that Milwaukee needs him to replicate in order to climb back, and ultimately win the series. The Bucks won’t be able to count on the stat line Maker produced, but they should be able to count on Parkers.
8. Maker finished with 14 points on 3-of-5 shooting, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range. He was a force defensively, blocking five shots, and altering a handful of others. Maker has largely been a disappointment this season, but Friday night was a glimpse into the player Milwaukee believes he can be.
9. One person that has always believed in Maker has been all-star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. There have been times where Antetokounmpo has drawn criticism from fans for his belief in Maker despite his struggles.
10. “It means a lot,” Antetokounmpo said of Maker’s big game. “Thon for me is like a little brother. We had a conversation earlier – two weeks ago – and I told him that he has to bring that killer mentality back. [Maker] was hungry and tonight he showed that he wants it. He did a great job coming in and gave everybody energy. He blocked shots, he made shots, running beating guys. I am proud of him. Hopefully he can bring it all into Game 4 because we definitely need this guy.”
11. And to think, if not for center John Henson’s back injury, Maker likely would not have seen nearly this much meaningful action. Henson was inactive, forcing Tyler Zeller into the starting lineup, and Maker into the rotation.
12. “Tonight specifically, it was not only the blocks and energy, but he hit some big shots,” interim coach Joe Prunty said of Maker following the game. “He had a big three from the right wing and made a lot of plays on both sides of the ball that are critical to winning the game.”
13. As for Dellavedova, his stat line was nothing out of the ordinary. He knocked down both shots he attempted, finishing with five points in 16 minutes. What he was able to provide to the Bucks was an annoyance to Celtics guard Terry Rozier. Rozier had torched the Bucks in both games in Boston but was quiet in Game 3.
14. That’s what Dellavedova’s game is. He’s not going to go out and score 15 or more points for the Bucks very often, but he is going to be someone that can bother opposing backcourts with his pestering defense. He routine would defend Rozier for all 94 feet of the court, making him earn everything he got.
15. “I’ve been riding the bike for two months, so I can pick up full court for as long as they need me to,” Dellavedova said. He had missed nearly the last two months of the season due to an ankle injury, playing in only the final regular season game before the playoffs.
16. Dellavedova was a big boost to the back court for the Bucks, but Bledsoe’s play was also something that Milwaukee had not had in the first two games. In Boston he was inefficient, careless with the basketball, and outplayed by a backup whom he refused to acknowledge.
17. Friday night he was the player Milwaukee had hoped to see on a nightly basis when the trade was made for him early in the season. He had 17 points on an efficient 8-of-13 shooting from the floor. For the first time in the series, he outplayed Rozier.
18. In the second quarter Bledsoe scored in transition with Rozier the lone player back defending to put Milwaukee up by 21. Bledsoe flexed and smacked his biceps muscle on his way back down the floor. Make no mistake, he won’t acknowledge who Rozier is publicly, but he knew exactly who he had scored on. There’s no doubt about that.
19. The first two games saw the offensive load carried by Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton for Milwaukee. They were the two leading scorers for Milwaukee once again, but they certainly didn’t need to do as much this time around.
20. Middleton was the game’s high scorer with 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting. Antetokounmpo had 19 points on 8-of-13 from the floor in only 27 minutes.
21. The low total of minutes for Antetokounmpo could come as a benefit for the Bucks on Sunday. Even with a day off between games, the turnaround is rather short between Games 3 and 4. The 8:30 p.m. CT start on Friday paired with a noon CT start on Sunday means that this set of games will have less time between contests than most in the playoffs.
22. Antetokounmpo checked out after picking up his fifth foul with 10:22 remaining in the game and the Bucks holding a 90-70 lead. He never needed to re-enter, making that foul call by official Scott Foster a blessing in disguise for the Bucks.
23. “We realized how important this game was,” Antetokounmpo said afterwards. “I think everyone brought their ‘A’ game, they brought their energy. Game 2 we didn’t do a good job rebounding the ball or taking care of the ball. I think we did a great job of doing that [tonight]. It takes effort to rebound so I think everybody brought effort and hopefully we can carry that on to Game 4.”
24. Game 4 is Sunday at noon CT at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Friday night’s win ensured that the series will head back to Boston for a Game 5 at the very least. A win on Sunday would force a Game 6 at the Bradley Center. A loss in Game 4 could potentially mean the Bucks will never play inside the building again. Talk to you then.