Twenty last shots for the 20 free throws attempted by the Milwaukee Bucks in Tuesday night’s 92-87 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
1. The Milwaukee Bucks missed an opportunity on Tuesday night, there’s no other way to say it. Granted, the Bucks certainly didn’t receive any help at the end of the game, but an opportunity was missed, nonetheless.
2. The Boston Celtics made adjustments from Games 3 and 4 at the Bradley Center. Forward Semi Ojeleye was shifted into the starting lineup in place of Aron Baynes, and Al Horford moved to center to start the game. The player that seemed to impact the most for Milwaukee was Giannis Antetokounmpo.
3. Antetokounmpo finished with just 10 shots from the floor attempted on the night. He had only two such games with less than 10 shots in the regular season this year. Only in one of those contests did he play the full game.
4. Antetokounmpo passed the ball well, finishing an assist short of a triple-double while posting a final stat line of 16 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists. But that wasn’t what his team needed him to do.
5. Tuesday night was arguably the biggest game of Antetokounmpo’s career to date. The Bucks have realistic expectations of winning this series and had a chance to take a 3-2 series lead in Boston’s gym. Antetokounmpo is still learning how to be a superstar, leader, and winner. At 23 years old, that’s something that’s okay. Few are ready to take over a game at that age, especially in the playoffs.
6. Tuesday night was an opportunity for him to cement himself among the game’s best players. That’s not to say every bona fide super star in the league would have won that game. But it’s worth wondering how many of them would only have attempted 10 shots in the same situation.
7. That’s not to say Antetokounmpo won’t be able to change that in the near future. The Bucks will certainly need him to show up in a big way on Thursday night, but Tuesday was a missed opportunity.
8. Instead, the Bucks will return to the Bradley Center for a win-or-go-home Game 6 on Thursday night.
9. As a team Milwaukee didn’t shoot the ball particularly well. They finished 32-for-87 (36.8%) shooting. Team’s don’t tend to win playoff games when shooting that poorly from the field. The Rockets defeated Minnesota in Game 2 of their first round series this year while shooting 36.5 percent, but that included 16 made 3-pointers, compared to nine by the Bucks.
10. Prior to Houston’s win this year, the last team to win a playoff game shooting the same percentage as the Bucks or worse came in 2015 when the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 2 of the NBA Finals 95-93 while shooting 32.2 percent. So, yeah, it doesn’t happen very often.
11. Aside from Antetokounmpo struggling to find shots, the Bucks had a tough time scoring due to Khris Middleton’s regression to the mean. Through the first four games Middleton was 40-of-65 shooting from the floor for an insane 61.5 percent. Middleton didn’t play poorly on Tuesday, but he also didn’t play spectacular, as he had been.
12. There was no way he was going to be able to keep shooting at that rate. Tuesday night saw Middleton finish 9-of-21 shooting, and he had plenty of good looks that didn’t find their way to the bottom of the net. Shooters have nights like that from time to time, Tuesday was one of them for Middleton.
13. After Milwaukee got strong contributions from Thon Maker, Matthew Dellavedova, and Tony Snell in Games 3 and 4, those role players struggled in Game 5. They combined to score two points on 1-of-12 shooting in 51:53 of floor time. It’s expected that role players don’t play as well on the road as they do at home, but the lack of production from those three hurt Milwaukee after a pair of strong games.
14. Milwaukee was still able to find contributions from its bench, however. Jabari Parker continued strong play after a lackluster start to the series. He had 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting and pulled down eight rebounds.
15. The Bucks also got an unexpected contribution from Shabazz Muhammad. He scored 11 points in just under 10 minutes on the floor. Muhammad had played just over 15 minutes prior to Tuesday night, including two DNP-CD’s in Games 1 and 4. The only meaningful minutes he had played came in the Game 2 loss.
16. As for the end of the game, Milwaukee has a right to be upset with the way things turned out. With 1:16 left in regulation the Bucks trailed 84-79 as Boston’s Horford released a shot on the left wing. The issue was that the 24-seond shot clock had expired and should have resulted in the Bucks gaining control of the ball via turnover.
17. That didn’t happen, as Horford’s shot hit the rim and an offensive rebound was credited to Ojeleye. While the Celtics didn’t score on that extra possession, the Bucks didn’t get the ball back until 50 seconds left in the game.
18. There’s no way of knowing whether or not those 26 seconds would have changed the outcome for Milwaukee, but it certainly would have given them a much better chance at finishing off the comeback.
19. When the last 2-minute report is released by the NBA on Wednesday it will certainly show that the officiating crew headed by Ken Mauer missed a critical call. There will be plenty of other things on the L2M, both correct and incorrect, but that will be the call that stands out the most.
20. The Bucks and Celtics will square off in Game 6 on Thursday night at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. A Milwaukee win would force a decisive Game 7 on Saturday in Boston. A Boston win would end Milwaukee’s season. Talk to you then.