Bucks need role players to step up in Boston

“Another hard-fought game, physical game. Found a way to close it out. They made their run in the third, carried it over in the fourth, but like I said, we found a way to close it out. 2-2, headed to Boston.”

That’s how Bucks interim coach Joe Prunty opened his press conference on Sunday following Milwaukee’s 104-102 win over the Celtics. Heading back to Boston for a Game 5 was always part of the plan for the Bucks in terms of winning the series.

After the first two games in Boston, primarily the blowout loss in Game 2, a return trip to Boston wasn’t guaranteed. When the Bucks lost by 14 points, it seemed as if all chance of Milwaukee advancing to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals for the first time since 2001 was gone. That Tuesday night it was difficult picturing the Bucks winning a game, nevertheless the next two.

One week later the Bucks will be back in the same building as they were when trying to explain the 14-point loss, this time, they’ll be playing their biggest game of the season. Every game moving forward for Milwaukee becomes the biggest of the year. That’s no secret.

So, what exactly changed between Tuesday night’s loss and Monday morning’s flight back to Boston with a 2-2 split?

The role players off the bench certainly played better in Milwaukee than Boston, which is to be expected. The opposite can be said for Boston’s role players. Sure, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford still put on strong performances. But Terry Rozier and Shane Larkin, two players that played integral roles in the first two games, were unable to elevate their performances on the road.

It’s fair to wonder if Jabari Parker, Matthew Dellavedova, and Thon Maker will be able to replicate their play in Boston. Parker was nearly unplayable in the first two games of the series, and Dellavedova and Maker combined to play a total of less than six minutes.

After the past two games, it’s known that Dellavedova and Maker will both be on the floor plenty in Game 5 in Boston.

Maker has fed off the energy provided by the crowd at home in the past couple of games. He won’t have that benefit in Boston. In fact, Maker may not exactly be the most well-liked player when he steps on the floor on Tuesday night. He was involved in a tie up with Boston center Aron Baynes that will certainly be remembered by Celtics fans.

Dellavedova isn’t a player that should have to worry about being intimidated by the daunting Boston crowd. He’s one of two players on the roster to be the owner of a championship ring. Dellavedova has played in more big moments than everyone on the roster, except for maybe Jason Terry.

Parker, however, was an entirely different player at home than on the road. There’s no real concrete reason why that was the case, either.

“We’ve been saying from the beginning that we need him. He is one of the best scorers in the league and one of the best players. For him to come off the bench for us, it is a huge boost. We just want to be ready and stay locked in,” Khris Middleton said of Parker’s effort on Sunday. “It wasn’t [going] for him on the offensive end early, the defensive end is really what got us going. He came in, he was locked in and did a great job of guarding his man and helping guys.”

In Boston, the Bucks need him to be the same player he was in Games 3 and 4. His scoring output was higher, scoring 17 and 16 points, respectively. But more importantly, Parker’s defensive effort in the first half of Game 4 was arguably the best of his career. He had three blocks and a pair of steals in that half alone. Parker has not had a single game in his entire career with those numbers.

Those three players all had a huge impact in Game 4. When Parker — who was the first player off Milwaukee’s bench — entered the Bucks were trailing 12-5. Milwaukee quickly went on a 6-0 run and outscored Boston 46-23 the rest of the half.

In total, the Bucks were better with the bench players on the floor. Parker, Dellavedova, Maker, and Tony Snell were the only players to post a positive plus/minus. The only starter that wasn’t a negative was Middleton, who was an even zero.

Winning on Tuesday means that the Bucks would have an opportunity to finish off the series in front of a home crowd at the Bradley Center. Milwaukee would also have the opportunity to fulfill the prophecy of Brandon Jennings in 2013.

Lose, well then, the Bucks have their backs against the wall yet again in Game 6.

Each game brings a new pressure that this team has not yet faced. Yes, this core was in a similar situation last year in the postseason against Toronto, but the expectations are different. This team was supposed to win 50 games or more, fight to have home court advantage in the first round and become a legitimate threat to make a deep run in the playoffs.

None of those goals were reached by the Bucks but winning a playoff series for the first time in 18 years would help to erase the fact that the team severely underachieved during the season. They just need to win two more games to make it happen.

Last shots: Bucks 116, Celtics 92

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.

Report: FA guard Derrick Rose meeting with the Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks could be in the market for some help at point guard.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Monday morning that the team is hosting free agent guard Derrick Rose, most recently of the New York Knicks. Milwaukee is already over the salary cap, and would need to shed contracts to sign a high-priced player such as Rose, according to Wojnarowski.

Named the 2011 NBA MVP while with Chicago, Rose played in just 49 games the next three years due to knee injuries and was eventually traded last summer to the Knicks. He averaged 18.0 points, 4.4 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game, as New York struggled to a 31-51 record.

Rose is originally from Chicago and could be looking to get back to the Midwest.

The Bucks used a combination of Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova at point guard a year ago, though Giannis Antetokounmpo served as the primary ball handler and led the team in assists.

Bucks blow a 20-point lead, lose to Atlanta 114-110

Milwaukee blew a 20-point second-half lead and lost 114-110 to the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night.

The Bucks had no answer for Dennis Schroder, who scored a career-high 33 points, and helped the Hawks shoot 62 percent in the third quarter to turn the tide, including a 13-3 run to start the half. After trailing for much of the night, Atlanta took the lead with 3:15 left in the game courtesy of a jumper from Kyle Korver.

Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker answered back with a 3-pointer to give the Bucks the lead back, but Schroder scored at the other end and the Hawks led the rest of the way.

“He’s a good player,” Bucks guard Matthew Dellavedova said of Schroder. “We let him reject too many screens and then he was knocking down his 3-point shot as well. He’s a good player but we have to do a better job as well.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo was limited much of the night due to foul trouble, playing just 24 minutes and finishing with 14 points and six rebounds. Parker led the way with 27 points.

“He’s got to go through it,” coach Jason Kidd said of Antetokounmpo playing in foul trouble. “Everyone in that locker room has to go through it and learn how to play with fouls, and understand it’s about wins and not about stats. Once we get to that level, we’ll be pretty good.”

The loss dropped Milwaukee to 11-10 on the year. They’ll travel to Washington D.C. to take on the Wizards Saturday night.

Bucks re-sign center Miles Plumlee to a 4-year deal

The Milwaukee Bucks continued their spending spree on role players on Monday, re-signing restricted free agent center Miles Plumlee.

The deal, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein, is worth $52 million over four years.

Plumlee averaged 5.1 points and 3.8 rebounds in 61 games, including 14 starts, last season, his second in Milwaukee since being traded from Phoenix. The former Duke product will turn 28 in September.

Earlier this offseason, the Bucks gave guard Matthew Dellavedova a 4-year, $38 million contract in a sign-and-trade deal with Cleveland, while forward Mirza Teletovic signed as a free agent for $30 million over three years.