Bucks 119, Pistons 103: Last word

DETROIT | The Milwaukee Bucks took a 3-0 series lead over the Detroit Pistons with a 119-103 win Saturday in Detroit.

Player of the game: Khris Middleton

Middleton led the Bucks with a team-high 20 points (7-13 FG, 3-6 3PT), eight rebounds and four assists. “Khris did a great job of guiding the team and making the right plays,” Giannis said.

Often overshadowed by the MVP candidate, Middleton was an all-star this season and is capable of leading Milwaukee to victory. Fans will argue whether he’s worth or not worth a max-contract this offseason but one thing you can’t argue is how important he is to the success of this team.

Play of the game: Eric Bledsoe dances through two Pistons

Bledsoe has been a match-up nightmare for the Pistons. His quickness and strength have been difficult to stop. He showcased both with this play late in the second quarter.

The good: The balance

Milwaukee got contributions from almost everywhere. Seven players scored in double figures.

“Lots of different people stepping up and playing well,” head coach Mike Budenholzer said. “George off the bench, I just think Bled’s defense and Bled’s energy, Brook, Khris, all those guys. Just a really good overall team performance tonight.”

Ersan Ilyasova got Milwaukee going in the first knocking down three shots from beyond the arc to help withstand the strong start by the Pistons. “That’s what our bench was doing all year long, including this series,” Middleton discussed. “When they come in they’re ready to play. Ers did a great job of being ready. He got three great looks from three and he knocked all of them down. Just took a lot of pressure off us, allowed us to relax, play our game and play within the flow.”

Brook Lopez poured in 19 points (8-13 FG, 3-7 3PT), seven rebounds and five blocks, four of the blocks coming against Andre Drummond. “He’s 7’8”, isn’t he,” Pistons’ head coach Dwane Casey joked when discussing Drummond’s struggles with Lopez. “A lot of people struggle against him.”

Eric Bledsoe finished with 19 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals.

Nikola Mirotic had his best game of the series with 12 points (3-5 3PT) contributing to Milwaukee’s 42 bench points. George Hill added 11 points and five assists.

The not so good: Giannis Antetokounmpo

For his standards, Giannis had an off night. He finished with 14 points (5-13 FG), 10 rebounds and four turnovers in 28 minutes of play. He ended up with the worst +/- of the Milwaukee starters with a -7.

“It’s good to see my team doing really well out there without me,” Giannis said. “It means a lot to me. Even when I don’t play my best game, having the team playing such a good game and winning a playoff game – on the road – it makes me feel really good about this team. It shows the great character this team has and what a great team this team is. There’s going to be nights like this and I think my teammates did a great job picking me up.”

It says a lot about this team that they can win by double-digits on the road while their star struggles. Obviously, the Bucks need the very best from Giannis if they expect to go deep in the playoffs, but Saturday’s game reinforces the fact they are more than just Giannis. Giannis is surrounded by many capable players who can perform on both ends.

Stat of the game: 1

The Bucks are one win away from their first playoff series victory since 2001. They’ve been building to this point the last few years. Two seasons ago, they lost to the Raptors in six games. Last year, they fell to the Celtics in seven games. Now, they have a chance to sweep the Pistons and move on to the second round.

“We might be the No. 1 seed and the best team in the NBA, but at the end of the day we haven’t won a playoff series in a while and we’re hungry,” Giannis said. “I think everybody’s hungry. It starts from our coach, it starts from the leader setting the tone. We’re just going to keep fighting, we’re going to keep playing hard and try to win as many games as possible.”

What they said:

Lopez on the depth of the Bucks

They can’t sleep on anyone. Our depth is a huge boon for us, it’s a huge bonus we have. We just got to keep going to that. We’ve been putting trust in a lot of different people all season long and guys have been showing why we’ve been doing that.

Casey on the loss

We made some uncharacteristic mistakes. That’s what the playoffs are about – getting through that, understanding time-score-situation. We had situations where we’d make a mistake or miss a shot, now we go down to the defensive end and not carry out our assignments.

What’s next?

The Bucks will look for the series sweep of the Pistons Monday night in Detroit. Tip-off is scheduled for 8pm eastern time.

Deer Milwaukee: April 2, 2019

On this week’s episode of Deer Milwaukee, Cody Grant shared his thoughts on why he believes the Milwaukee Bucks get plenty of respect from the national media. Plus, he shared his thoughts on who he most wants to see the Bucks play in the playoffs. Also, Gabe Stoltz of Brew Hoop stopped by to talk about the games this past week and the MVP conversation between Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden.

1:46 | The Bucks and the national media

15:04 | Gabe Stoltz of Brew Hoop

31:16 | Who are you most looking forward to seeing the Bucks play in the playoffs?

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Bucks’ Khris Middleton nominated for Twyman-Stokes Award

Milwaukee Bucks’ All-Star Khris Middleton has been a key piece to the success of the team this year. He has sacrificed part of his individual game for the better of the team. Now, he is getting recognized for the teammate that he is.

Middleton has been named one of the 12 finalists for this year’s Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year award.

The award recognizes the player deemed the best teammate based on selfless play, on- and off-court leadership as a mentor and role model to other NBA players, and commitment and dedication to team.

The winner will be announced on June 24 during the NBA Awards show.

Deer Milwaukee: March 25, 2019

On this week’s episode of Deer Milwaukee, Cody Grant shared his thoughts on the NBA MVP race between Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden. Plus, he talked about what has made Khris Middleton so important to the Bucks’ success this season. Also, Eric Nehm of The Athletic stopped by to talk about the 3-1 week for Milwaukee. He also shared his thoughts on Middleton, the race for MVP and Marques Johnson’s jersey retirement.

2:03 | Middleton deserves more credit

11:00 | NBA MVP race: Giannis vs Harden

16:40 | Eric Nehm of The Athletic

32:33 | Giannis for DPOY?

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Joe & Ebo Experience: No Joe. No Ebo.

Knebel’s UCL (0:00)

Who’s your starting 5?(11:46)

The rules of baseball (26:35)

No worries (Bucks) (42:39)

Sports Director Zach Heilprin (54:21)

Short-handed Bucks fall to Cavs 107-102

CLEVELAND | The Milwaukee Bucks failed to clinch the Central Division Wednesday night in Cleveland as they fell to the Cavaliers 107-102.

Rookie guard Collin Sexton scored 25 points and Jordan Clarkson added 23 points to lead the Cavs to victory.

Khris Middleton stepped up in Giannis Antetokounmpo’s absence as he had a game-high 26 points for the Bucks. Eric Bledsoe chipped in with 24 points.

Milwaukee wasn’t just without Giannis, however. They were also missing five other rotational players including starting guard Malcolm Brogdon and forward Nikola Mirotic.

The Bucks had a chance to tie the game, down three with 11.5 seconds left but turned over the inbound pass.

Next up, the Bucks (53-19) return home to Fiserv Forum as they host the Miami Heat (34-36) Friday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30pm.

NBA All-Star Saturday predictions

There is nothing like NBA All-Star Weekend. Slam dunks, three-pointers, skills and a ton of points are all crammed into a three-day event. The weekend opened Friday night with the Celebrity All-Star Game and the Rising Stars Challenge.

It will continue Saturday night with the Skills Challenge, the Three-Point Shooting Contest and the Slam Dunk Contest. The All-Star Game between Team LeBron and Team Giannis will finish the weekend Sunday night.

For me, I could do without Friday night. I did not tune-in this time, and I can say with 100% certainty that I won’t tune-in next time. But I always look forward to the competitions on Saturday.

Skills Competition

  • Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
  • Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
  • De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings
  • Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
  • Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
  • Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
  • Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers
  • Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic

The skills competition has become one of the most exciting events to watch during the weekend. It features some of the most dynamic guards and big-men in the NBA.

You may think the guards have the advantage here, but a true point guard hasn’t won since Patrick Beverly in 2015. Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis each have won once in the last three years.

The best pick seems to be a front-court player with excellent outside touch.

My Pick: Nikola Jokic

3-Point Shootout

  • Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
  • Danny Green, Toronto Raptors
  • Buddy Hield, Sacramento Kings
  • Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets
  • Joe Harris, Brooklyn Nets
  • Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
  • Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
  • Seth Curry, Portland Trail Blazers
  • Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
  • Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

It’s hard to bet against arguably the greatest shooter in NBA history. So, I won’t.

My Pick: Stephen Curry

Slam Dunk Contest

  • Dennis Smith Jr., New York Knicks
  • Miles Bridges, Charlotte Hornets
  • Hamidou Diallo, Oklahoma City Thunder
  • John Collins, Atlanta Hawks

The dunk contest isn’t highlighted by star-power anymore. But, the lesser-known players can still put on a great show.

Miles Bridges has home-court advantage and has already put together a plethora of highlight-reel dunks this season.

My Pick: Miles Bridges

Last Shots: Magic 103, Bucks 83

MILWAUKEE | 17 last shots for 17% shooting from 3-point range by the Bucks in Milwaukee’s 103-83 loss to the Orlando Magic.

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo sat out the second game of a back-to-back with right knee soreness on Saturday night leaving the Bucks shorthanded.

2. 3-point shooting was hard to come by for Milwaukee. On the season, they shoot 35% from beyond the arc but were just 6-35 (17%) Saturday night.

3. Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon, Sterling Brown, D.J. Wilson and Ersan Ilyasova went a combined 0-23 from downtown.

4. Terrance Ross scored 13 points on 5-7 shooting in the second quarter to lead Orlando to a 59-49 halftime lead.

5. NBA All-Star, Middleton was ineffective for most of the night. He failed to reach double-digit scoring until midway through the fourth quarter. Middleton finished with 11 points on 4-17 shooting.

6. “This was a terrible game, but we have been playing well and can’t let this sit on our heads too long,” Middleton said.

7. Eric Bledsoe was a bright spot for Milwaukee. He recorded his sixth double-double of the season as he finished with a game-high 19 points and 11 rebounds.

8. “Like [Budenholzer] said, let’s throw this away. We weren’t playing bad we were just missing shots,” Bledsoe said.

9. Orlando had a strong defensive effort in the second half holding Milwaukee to just 34 points. 83 points is the Bucks’ lowest scoring output of the season.

10. “I thought in the second half we did a lot better job just keeping the ball out of the paint,” Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford said. “Our defense in the second half was really good.”

11. Bucks Head Coach Mike Budenholzer emphasized that his team needs to just move on from a loss like this one.

12. “First, a lot of credit to Orlando. They played well. They shot the ball well. First half, they shot 37 [percent]. Credit to them. They played well. We’ll probably put this one in the trash can and move on.”

13. Budenholzer is on point here and it was good to hear Middleton and Bledsoe echo their coach’s comments. The Bucks are one of the favorites to make it the NBA Finals. It’s an 82-game regular season in the NBA and you can never get too high or too low. Giannis wasn’t on the court. It was the second of a back-to-back after a road game. Games like this happen to every team in the league.

14. Despite the horrendous shooting night, the Bucks have now set a franchise record with 723 3-pointers this season.

15. Milwaukee still owns the best record in the NBA at 41-14 (.745) and have won 12 of their last 14 games.

16. Nikola Mirotic wore a Bucks uniform for the first time this season after being traded to Milwaukee from the New Orleans Pelicans.

17. The Bucks have yet to lose back-to-back games this season. They will be in Chicago Monday night to take on a Bulls team that has lost 10 straight games at home.

Last shots: Celtics 112, Bucks 96

Twenty-three last shots for the 23 points scored by guard Eric Bledsoe in Milwaukee’s 112-96 loss in Game 7 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs to the Boston Celtics.

1. This was a disappointing end to a disappointing season for the Milwaukee Bucks. There’s no other way to put it.

2. The Bucks had aspirations of battling for homecourt advantage in the first round and making a run as deep as the Eastern Conference Finals. Instead, their season ends with a Game 7 loss in the first round to the No. 2 seed Boston Celtics.

3. Make no mistake, the Celtics aren’t one of the typical powerhouse No. 2 seed. Sure, they won 55 games this year, but once the playoffs rolled around Boston was without several key players. Kyrie Irving and Daniel Theis both missed the entire series, Marcus Smart missed the first four games, Jaylen Brown missed the second half of Game 7, and Gordon Heyward missed the entire season.

4. The Celtics still found a way to beat the Bucks four times despite Milwaukee being the team at full-strength.

5. No. 7 seeds aren’t typically expected to advance in the NBA Playoffs. This one was.

6. In a game that could have been an early career-defining moment for all-star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, it wasn’t. He wasn’t bad, but it certainly wasn’t the performance needed from a player knocking on the door of the NBA’s elite.

7. Antetokounmpo finished with 22 points, nine rebounds, five assists, and four turnovers. He was far from spectacular. Antetokounmpo wasn’t the best player on the floor, and the Bucks cannot win when that’s the case. Khris Middleton, Al Horford, Terry Rozier, and arguably Eric Bledsoe were better than him.

8. Middleton continued his strong play, finishing with a game-high 32 points on 11-of-18 shooting. He had an incredible series and was certainly Milwaukee’s most consistent player. Bledsoe also saved his best game of the series – by far – for Game 7. He had 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting in the loss.

9. Even with Bledsoe playing well, he was still outplayed by Rozier, who finished with a playoff-career-high 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting and nine assists. Horford also had 26 points for Boston on 13-of-17 shooting.

10. The Bucks needed an effort from Antetokounmpo similar to the one they received in Game 6. On that night Antetokounmpo was undoubtedly the best player on the floor. He was the reason that the Bucks were able to force a Game 7, he was also part of the reason that Milwaukee’s season is now over.

11. Milwaukee now enters an offseason filled with uncertainty. The Bucks do not have a head coach, as it’s extremely unlikely that interim coach Joe Prunty will be retained to lead the team, and they’ll have to make a decision on Jabari Parker’s future.

12. Prunty will likely be given an opportunity to interview for the job opening, but the Bucks would be foolish to retain him moving forward. This job, due to the opportunity to coach Antetokounmpo, will be one of the more sought-after positions in the NBA for this coaching cycle.

13. That’s not to say Milwaukee will be able to pick any coach out there. With the Bucks lasting two weeks into the playoffs, every other team with a coaching vacancy has a head start on the search. For instance, the New York Knicks have reportedly interviewed 10 candidates already. Hiring the right coach will certainly help the Bucks move closer to owning the future that has been talked about so often. But that alone will not do it. There have been poor personnel decisions that have factored into the Bucks struggling, not just the coaching of Prunty and Jason Kidd before him.

14. Milwaukee has nearly $50 million tied up next season between Eric Bledsoe, John Henson, Matthew Dellavedova, Tony Snell, and Mirza Teletovic. Add in the dead money the team has from the Larry Sanders and Spencer Hawes situations and that number is over $50 million.

15. This is all before factoring in the Parker situation. He now enters restricted free agency after turning down Milwaukee’s contract extension offer prior to the season.

16. At times, Parker has been a very productive player for Milwaukee. Those times haven’t been frequent enough, and frankly, there are too many deficiencies in his game for him to be a max-level player. Add in his injured plagued history and he’s not a player that can be counted on with that type of financial commitment.

17. The likely scenario is that Parker will be given an offer sheet by another team and the Bucks will have an opportunity to match it. Matching it may push the Bucks further into financial distress as they wait for the contracts handed out to Henson, Dellavedova, and Snell to run out.

18. Not matching it would mean letting a talented player walk out the door with no compensation while the team is attempting to enter a window of contention.

19. The other question the Bucks need to ask this offseason is how serious the future is they’re trying to own. Yes, Antetokounmpo’s future is bright, and yes, Middleton is a very underrated player alongside him.

20. With that being said, where do the Bucks sit in the pecking order of the Eastern Conference? There’s uncertainty surrounding Cleveland with the future of LeBron James, yes. But the Celtics just knocked the Bucks off without their two best players, the Philadelphia 76ers are currently better than the Bucks — despite being younger – and are only going to be getting better while maintaining financial flexibility, and the Toronto Raptors do not look like they’re going anywhere soon, either.

21. And that’s only the Eastern Conference.

22. It’s hard to call this season anything but a failure for Milwaukee. And no matter what Antetokounmpo says about his future in Milwaukee, the clock is ticking for the Bucks.

23. Right now, it’s certainly difficult to see the Bucks owning the future.