Raptors 120, Bucks 102: Last word

TORONTO | The Toronto Raptors evened the series at 2-2 with a 120-102 blowout win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 4 Tuesday night.

Player of the game: Kyle Lowry

There is no denying how huge the Raptors’ bench was in the game, but Lowry is the one that got Toronto going. He finished with 25 points, six assists and five rebounds.

Play of the game: Kawhi Leonard dunks on Giannis

Kawhi Leonard has arguably been the best player in the playoffs this year. He is one of the best two-way players in the NBA and is proving that in this series. Leonard was able to get a dunk on Giannis as well.

The good: Khris Middleton

If it wasn’t for Middleton, the Bucks may have lost by 50. He did his best to keep Milwaukee in the game, especially in the second quarter. Middleton finished with a game-high 30 points, seven assists and six rebounds. He was active on defense and did a good job guarding Kawhi Leonard.

Middleton was lights out from the field as well. He was 11-15 overall and 4-7 from beyond the arc. Unfortunately, nobody else matched his play.

The not so good: Where do I start?

Giannis Antetokounmpo put on a nice show for Bucks fans early on. He helped the Bucks open up a 12-5 lead, but it was all downhill from there. Giannis looked similar to what we saw in Game 3 for the final three quarters. Eric Bledsoe continued to struggle as well. Head coach Mike Budenholzer went to George Hill in favor of Bledsoe at the nine minute mark of the first frame. Bledsoe played only 20 minutes on the night.

“I don’t worry about Bledsoe because I know he’s going to do his job, he’s going to come out aggressive, he’s going to find his rhythm, but at the end of the day the message to him is to stay aggressive, keep trying to go downhill, keep making the right pass and eventually it’s going to fall,” Giannis said. “He’s been doing a great job just being a leader, talking to everybody and just trying to impact the game as much as he can, in any area he can.”

The defense was the most concerning aspect of the night. It was their worst effort in this series. When the Bucks aren’t shooting well, they count on their defense to keep them in games, but it wasn’t there in Game 4.

“We didn’t really take away one thing from them,” Middleton said. “For the most part, they got anything they wanted, from the paint to the blocks to the midrange to the threes, and I feel like we just didn’t take away one thing tonight defensively. So we’ve just got to be better.”

The weird: Drake

Drake is not a normal fan.

Stat of the game: 48 points from the Raptors bench

Coming into the series, the thought was that the Bucks had the edge in bench play but that wasn’t the case Tuesday night. Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet combined for 48 points off the bench for the Raptors.

Milwaukee’s bench only mustered 23 points. They were outplayed for the entire game. Malcolm Brogdon had trouble finding his shot, leaving many short on a four-point 2-11 night. George Hill finished with five points but only attempted two shots. Ersan Ilyasova scored seven points and Pat Connaughton finished with three points.

The showcase matchup is Giannis vs Kawhi, but it has been the benches that have made the impact on this series.

What they said:

Budenholzer on the loss…

I think this is probably the first night defensively where I don’t feel like we were close to where you need to be to give ourselves a chance. So credit to Toronto. They obviously played well, had a lot of guys step up and play well. Their bench was very good.

Mirotic on Game 5…

Nobody said it was going to be easy…We need to go back to Milwaukee and do what they did to us.

Nurse on the bench production…

I always say this, that I want them to come in and hold their own defensively and execute the defensive schemes, and I just didn’t see many problems there. You know, they were able to guard a bunch of different people. Two of those three guys, Norm and Serge, ended up on Giannis quite a bit. So chipping in there is good. Serge was great on the glass. And I thought both Fred and Norm give us — Fred gives us some play calling, some organization, but they both give us some dribble penetration and then some shooting too. So it’s important that those guys are out there to be able to catch the pass off the double-teams, space, and if they rush out to them, they can get back into the paint and make the next play as well.

What’s next?

The Bucks (2-2) will look to their home-court to help win Game 5 over the Raptors (2-2) on Thursday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30pm.

Raptors 118, Bucks 112 : Last word

TORONTO | The Milwaukee Bucks dropped Game 3 to the Toronto Raptors in double-overtime on Sunday night.

Player of the game: Kawhi Leonard

Leonard was given the assignment to defend Giannis Antetokounmpo and he did a great job forcing the Greek Freak into difficult situations. Leonard also did plenty on the offensive end. He played a playoff-career-high 52 minutes scoring 36 points, grabbing nine rebounds and dishing out five assists.

“Yeah, I think first of all, his defense was probably the biggest key of the game,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said about Leonard. “Not only did he just play good, but he made some huge plays with some steals and rip-aways and breakaways. Offense was hard to come by there for both teams for a while, and any time you can get a steal and a breakout, it’s a huge momentum play. But yea, he was good.”

People talk about Leonard as one of the best two-way players in the NBA, so it was no surprise to witness the monster game he had Sunday night. Leonard has performed at a high level on the grandest stage, so you must expect him to perform in the Eastern Conference Finals. Milwaukee can’t stop Leonard, but Giannis can cancel him out and he didn’t do that in Game 3.

Play of the game: Pascal Siakam denies Brook Lopez

In a crucial point late in the second overtime, Lopez drove to the basket but was met by the weak-side help of Siakam who sent the attempt back. Toronto went on to finish it off to avoid a possible sweep.

Siakam finally had a complete game. He always brings the intensity and energy on the defensive end, but he was one of the guys who got Toronto going early offensively. A most-improved player of the year candidate, Siakam finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds.

The good: George Hill

Hill was the best player on the floor for the Bucks and it doesn’t feel like this is the first time I’m saying this in this postseason alone. He finished with 24 points, seven rebounds and two assists. Hill always seemed to hit a big shot when Milwaukee really needed it and kept them in the game all the way until the end.

Budenholzer talked about what Eric Bledsoe can learn from Hill’s play. “I think they’re such good friends,” Budenholzer said. “They spend so much time together away from the court. When George plays well, he’s like his biggest fan. I think George is playing with a lot of aggressiveness. Like you said, he’s playing with a lot of force and attacking. And I think when Bled does those things, that’s when he’s at his best. I think just like the entire group, I think Bled will be better in Game 4. I’ve got a lot of confidence.”

The bench followed Hill’s lead all night. Malcolm Brogdon was terrific as well. He had 20 points in 37 minutes of play. Both Hill and Brogdon saw time defending Leonard also.

“I feel great,” Brogdon said. “I feel as though my role has been to come in, bring a spark, be the fresh legs on the team, bring the energy. I feel like I’ve done that for the most part. But we lost the game tonight, so I think all of us have a bigger role to play.”

The not so good: Giannis Antetokounmpo and the starters

This was one of the worst games I’ve seen Giannis play. Give credit to Toronto, they made it difficult on him. Almost every time Giannis touched the ball the Raptors would send a defender over to double team causing him to make bad decisions leading to eight turnovers.

Giannis had just 12 points on 5-16 shooting and fouled out early in the second overtime period.

The rest of the starters weren’t much better. Brook Lopez was the only bright spot leading the way for the starting five with 16 points. However, Bledsoe (11 points, 3-16 FG), Nikola Mirotic (10 points, 3-11 FG) and Khris Middleton (9 points, 3-16 FG) struggled hitting shots.

“We don’t really worry about guys making shots or missing shots,” Hill said of the starters. “It’s just one of those games where they didn’t make them today. We have the utmost respect and belief that the next game is not going to be as bad as it was. But I know it’s sitting in their head that they go for a combined 11 of 48 or something like that. We’re not worried about it. We know they’re going to come to play next game. They’re super competitive. They’re super professional. Just keep moving forward.”

Stat of the game: 66.7% FT shooting

If just one more free throw fell, we may be talking about a Bucks win. They shot 22-33 (66.7%) from the foul line. Giannis was just 2-7 from the free throw line and missed several late in the game.

What they said:

Budenholzer on the loss…

I feel like we gave ourselves several chances. We weren’t able to get over the hump. Give them credit. As a group, they played well. A couple guys really stepped up for them. I think there’s lots of opportunity for us to look at how we can get better collectively, how we can be better going into Game 4. I think we look forward to that.

Nurse on the win…

I think just in general, we played with a much tougher mindset. I thought we were kind of gritty and we didn’t really have much choice there. Those guys had to roll those minutes, and they kept on playing and fighting and doing everything they could to keep us in the game and make plays.

What’s next?

The Bucks (2-1) will look to take a 3-1 series lead over the Raptors (1-2) in Toronto on Tuesday. Tip-off at 7:30pm.

Bucks 125, Raptors 103: Last word

MILWAUKEE | The Milwaukee Bucks took a 2-0 series lead over the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals with a 125-103 win Friday night.

Player of the game: Giannis Antetokounmpo

After a non-Giannis-esque performance in Game 1, you expected more from the Greek Freak in Game 2. Boy, did he deliver. Giannis finished with a team-high 30 points, 17 rebounds and five assists. It wasn’t typical domination game from the Greek Freak, but he set the tone for the Bucks from the tip.

“I know every night when the game starts, my teammates are looking at me as a leader of the team,” Giannis said. “When the game starts, we’ve got to set the tone and we’ve got to be focused. You’ve got to make sure the whole team is into the game. And I think it definitely gave the team a lot of energy to start the game.”

“He plays so hard, he lays it all on the line, every time,” Bucks Coach Mike Budenholzer said. “It was a great start for us. I think everybody fed off of Giannis and how he started the game.”

The first basket of the game was a Giannis dunk. Milwaukee started the game on a 9-0 run and would not relinquish the lead the rest of the way.

Play of the game: Giannis throws it down on Siakam

Someone always ends up on a poster when trying to defend Giannis. This time, it was the Raptors’ young forward Pascal Siakam.

The good: The Start

I don’t think you could script a better start to Game 2. The Bucks got off to a 9-0 run leading to a Nick Nurse timeout. They held the lead for the rest of the game.

The not so good: Third quarter

The third frame has mostly been a quarter the Bucks could count on dominating, but Toronto battled and won the third 39-31. They cut the lead down to as low as 13 before Milwaukee went on a 6-0 run to push it back to 19 points. Kawhi Leonard was nearly unstoppable in the quarter scoring 15 points (5-9 FG). Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet came in off the bench scoring five points each. It was the only quarter the Bucks didn’t outscore the Raptors.

Stat of the game: 54 points for the Bench Mob

The bench mob was spectacular in Game 2. Ersan Ilyasova, Malcolm Brogdon and George Hill were all in double-digit scoring. Brogdon hasn’t seemed to miss a beat since returning to the court from his injury. He has fit in nicely with the second unit. Brogdon helped the offense rolling after their hot start scoring eight points in the first quarter. He also played a big role in a crucial stretch in the third quarter. The Raptors clawed their way back cutting the deficit to 13. Then, out of a timeout Brogdon scored a layup, found Hill on a fastbreak for another layup and found Hill again for another layup capping off a 6-0 run to put the Bucks back up 19.

Ilyasova had himself a game, especially in the first half. Wearing a shooting sleeve, the Turkish Hammer was a force on both sides of the ball early on. He drew two charges and dropped 15 points through the first two quarters. Ilyasova finished with 17 points (7-11 FG), three rebounds, two assists, two steals and had the highest +/- on the night (22).

“It was clearly his best game of the year, and in a big moment for Ersan to step up,” Budenholzer said. “He’s such a pro.”

“I mean, everybody is saying about the sleeve,” Ilyasova said. “I was making joke in the locker room: Maybe I should put another sleeve on my left if we don’t win by 30. Well, the thing is that’s the beauty about our team. Everybody wants to look at the bench. We have a deep bench and the whole season we rely on each other. Obviously, in this game we kind of learn a lesson from Game 1 and everybody just from the gates was ready, and especially the bench. I think the starting five set the tone, and we have to just do the same thing.”

What they said:

Eric Bledsoe on Game 3…

We’ve got to treat Game 3 like it’s Game 7. Go out there and compete.

Nurse on the loss…

We didn’t do much well tonight, obviously.

Kyle Lowry on going back home…

We get to go back home and protect our home court, like they did these last two games. We’ve got a chance to go home, protect home court and do what we’re supposed to do.

In case you missed it:

*The Bucks have now won six consecutive playoff games, which ties the longest winning streak in postseason franchise history (done two other times).

*Milwaukee has now tied the NBA record for 20-point wins in a single postseason with six (done three other times). Of the Bucks’ 10 wins this postseason, eight have come by double digits.

*The Bucks hauled in 53 rebounds, marking their ninth game of this year’s postseason with 50+ rebounds which are the most 50-rebound games in a single postseason in Bucks franchise history.

*Milwaukee led from start to finish, tallying its second wire-to-wire victory of this year’s playoffs.

*Giannis grabbed a playoff-career-high-tying 17 rebounds and led the Bucks with 30 points (10-20 FG), marking his second career playoff game scoring 30+ points with 15+ rebounds. He is just the second player in franchise history to have multiple 30-point/15-rebound career playoff games, along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (17).

*Ilyasova finished the night with 17 points (7-11 FG) and three rebounds. This is his second game of this year’s postseason with 15+ points and sixth of his playoff career.

*Mirotic scored 15 points and has now scored in double figures in his last three games.

*The Raptors were led by Leonard with 31 points and eight rebounds, marking his ninth game of the playoffs with 30+ points.

*Norman Powell tallied his third game in double figures this postseason, as he finished the night with 14 points.

*Toronto also had Lowry (15) score in double figures.

What’s next?

The Bucks (2-0) will head North to the play the Raptors (0-2) in Toronto for Game 3 on Sunday. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:00pm.

Deer Milwaukee: May 14, 2019

On this week’s episode of Deer Milwaukee, Cody Grant shared his thoughts on the Eastern Conference Finals matchup between the Bucks and the Raptors. He also talked about one of his concerns being the amount of days off Milwaukee has had since round two. Plus, Eric Nehm of The Athletic stopped by to breakdown the series.

1:30 | Concern on time off

5:02 | ECF preview

12:15 | Eric Nehm

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Celtics 112, Bucks 90: Last word

MILWAUKEE | The Milwaukee Bucks dropped game one at home to the Boston Celtics 112-90.

Player of the game: Al Horford

Horford isn’t the Celtics’ best player, but he may very well be their most important player in this series. He didn’t finish with staggering numbers (20 points, 11 rebounds) but he made his presence felt on the defensive end.

He was assigned the match-up that most NBA players dread | Giannis Antetokounmpo. Horford was up for the challenge. He completely took Giannis out of his game using his length and strength to frustrate the Greek Freak in the paint. All three of Horford’s blocks came against Giannis.

Offensively, he keeps the defense honest and can knock down jumpers off pick-and-pops with Kyrie Irving. He is a match-up nightmare and a savvy veteran that Giannis is going to need to figure out because Horford made him look human.

“He was the Al Horford we all know and love,” Celtics forward Gordon Hayward said. “Knocking down shots, being able to space the floor, also taking advantage of smaller guys in the post and around the rim. Defensively, he was all over the place. [He] really did a good job on Giannis. I thought our team for the most part did a good job on him.”

Play of the game: Brown stuffs one on Giannis

Giannis is usually the one dunking on the opposition, but Celtics forward Jaylen Brown got the best of him Sunday afternoon.

The good: Finish to the first half

The Bucks had one terrific stretch when they looked like, well, the Bucks. They finished the second quarter on a 25-12 run which began with a 15-0 run. The bench played a big role in the first-half picking up the starters.

The second-unit scored 15 of the team’s 33 points in the second frame behind the hot shooting of Nikola Mirotic (9 points, 3-3 3 FG). George Hill finished the first half with nine points (4-5 FG). Hill and Mirotic really kept the Bucks in the game. If it wasn’t for them, game one could’ve been even uglier than it was.

Now, Milwaukee needs to figure out how to play like that for a full 48 minutes | something they did all regular season long.

The not so good: The starters

Milwaukee’s bench, except for Hill and Mirotic, didn’t play well either, but you rely on your starters to show up and produce in the playoffs. They didn’t on Sunday.

The Bucks’ starting five combined for 15-50 (30%) from the field. Giannis had one of his worst games to date. He finished with a team-high 22 points but was just 7-21 from the field. He also struggled from the free throw line converting on only five of his 10 attempts.

“Whenever I got in the paint and I (spun) or tried to change direction, a second guy was right there,” Giannis said. “I’ve just got to go watch tape. If they’re going to play like this the whole series, I’ve got to be able to make the right pass and trust my teammates to knock down shots.”

“Giannis, as great as he’s been this year, he hasn’t been perfect every night,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He’s hard on himself, so there’s probably some point where I’m just going to put my arms around him and tell him, ‘You’re going to be great.’ He’s been so good so many nights. Credit to Boston, they’re doing some things well, but I think Giannis will play better.”

Eric Bledsoe mirrored last year’s playoff performance. He finished with six points (1-5 FG) and four assists. Brook Lopez couldn’t find any success offensively, ending the game with three points (1-5 FG, 1-4 3PT).

Khris Middleton was the most consistent starter. He dropped 16 points (5-12 FG, 3-4 3PT), 10 rebounds, six assists and was a big contributor in Milwaukee’s run to end the second quarter.

Stat of the game: 22

Sunday’s 22-point loss to the Celtics was the team’s biggest loss this season. It was shocking to see, really. I picked the Bucks to win this series in seven games so I expected them to lose three to Boston, but I figured every game would be down to the wire.

“Well, they hit us in the mouth,” Hill said. “That was pretty surprising. But it’s the playoffs and you have to learn how to hit and get back up.”

If there is any good to take away from this loss is that whether a team loses by one point or 22 points, it’s still just one loss. The Celtics don’t get more wins for winning by 22 points.

What they said:

Budenholzer on the loss…

As a group, we’re going to have to be a lot better. Credit to Boston, individually and collectively, they played well today, and we didn’t. Between now and Tuesday, we’ll look at ways we can get better defensively and get better offensively. We look forward to being better Tuesday.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens on their play in the second half…

In game one that we played Milwaukee this year, we were up by 15 in the fourth and by 10 minutes in the fourth it was a two-point game. Any little let-up and they just take advantage of it. We were fortunate to be up two at halftime and I thought we came out of the gates well in the second half and played well from there on out, but this is a hard team to play against and that wasn’t their best game, and we’re going to half to be awfully good on Tuesday. And, we know that.

In case you missed it:

*Giannis knocked down a playoff-career-high-tying three three-pointers, scoring 22 points with eight rebounds. This was his 14th career playoff game scoring 20+ points, including his third this postseason.

*Middleton tallied just his second career playoff double-double, as he finished the afternoon with 16 points and a team-high 10 rebounds.

*Mirotic scored 13 points (5-9 FG, 3-4 3PT) with four rebounds, recording his 15th career playoff game scoring in double figures, and his second consecutive game.

*Irving tied his playoff-career-high of 11 assists and scored a game-high 26 points. This was Irving’s fifth playoff double-double of his career.

*Horford finished the afternoon with 20 points and 11 rebounds, marking his first 20-points/10-rebound game of the 2019 postseason.

*The Celtics also had Brown (19), Hayward )13) and Terry Rozier (11) score in double figures.

What’s next?

The Bucks (0-1) will look to even the series with the Celtics (1-0) in game two on Tuesday. Tip-off from Fiserv Forum is scheduled for 7:00pm.

Deer Milwaukee: April 27, 2019

On this week’s episode of Deer Milwaukee, Cody Grant shared his thoughts on the Milwaukee Bucks’ second round match-up against the Boston Celtics. He talked about what he expects from the series and gave his prediction on who moves to the conference finals. Plus, Kane Pitman stopped by to breakdown the series and talked about what he’s looking forward to and what he expects to happen.

0:51 | Bucks/Celtics second round analysis

14:02 | Kane Pitman

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Bucks 120, Pistons 99: Last word

MILWAUKEE | The Milwaukee Bucks to a 2-0 series lead with a 120-99 win over the Detroit Pistons Wednesday.

Player of the game: Eric Bledsoe

Bledsoe scored a playoff-career-high 27 points on a playoff-career-high 11 made field goals (11-19 FG). Often the gritty defender for Milwaukee, Bledsoe was a go-to guy offensively Wednesday night. He always seems to be the player to score a big bucket or make a huge steal when they need it the most.

For someone who struggled in the playoffs last season, it’s great to see how much he’s turned it around this year. “I feel like for us as a team, we have players that have been on the team for a while,” Bledsoe stated. “We went through adversity, seven games last year. We know what it takes now. We are focused, so we’re trying to block everything out and focus on us, just do our job.”

Play of the game: Giannis gets back at Thon

Maker may have made the defensive play of his career stuffing Giannis at the rim. However, his glory wouldn’t last long as Giannis attacked Maker the very next play.

The two are the best of friends. Giannis even refers to Maker as his younger brother, but in the playoffs, Giannis is all business. He spoke about the sequence after the game.

I’m just trying to do my job, try to be aggressive. Obviously, Thon is 7’1”, 7’2”, long, he can block shots, that’s one of the things he does great. I tried to get him a little deeper in the paint and I was able to dunk on him. But I was just trying to do my job and make plays.

The good: Star-power at Fiserv

Several Wisconsin athletes came out to support the Bucks. Current Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers and David Bakhtiari were spotted in the crowd. Also, multiple members of the Milwaukee Brewers cheered on the Deer including last year’s NL MVP Christian Yelich, Ryan Braun and Craig Counsell.

The not so good: 2nd quarter

Milwaukee failed to outscore Detroit in only one quarter, the second (32-20). The Pistons were clicking on all cylinders offensively and defensively. They knocked down four of their seven three-point attempts and forced the Bucks to commit seven turnovers leading to nine points.

“I thought Detroit came out in the second quarter and their energy exceeded ours,” Brook Lopez discussed. “At times, their focus exceeded ours.”

It was a tough stretch for Giannis as well. He was only able to score three points and had to come out early after picking up his third foul.

This was the first time in the series that the Pistons looked like they could compete with the Bucks. They were able to find multiple open looks from downtown on drive-and-kicks. It could be a good thing for Milwaukee. Maybe the second quarter will end up being a wake-up call that they can’t play down to the level of the competition, especially in the playoffs.

The weird: Pink panther

Giannis was decked out in pink as he entered the post-game press-conference media room humming the theme to ‘Pink Panther.’ I think it’s safe to say that this team is loose and loves to have fun.

Stat of the game: 31 minutes for Pat Connaughton

Connaughton scored a playoff-career-high 18 points (8-10 FG) and hauled in a playoff-career-high nine rebounds in his 31 minutes of play. He also added four blocks and was a spark plug off the bench for the second straight game.

“It’s great when you have a little bit of pop off your bench,” Mike Budenholzer said. “I love the pop he gives us defensively. How many blocked shots did he have? He covers a lot of ground. He gets some great contests even when he doesn’t make shots. I think he bothers shooters, and he’s really great chasing and staying with guys. He mixes in making some threes and he’s going to the basket and finishing. He and I were laughing that he’s turned into our best power forward with a jump hook. He’s doing a little bit of everything.”

Connaughton has been a huge boost off the bench, especially after the injuries to Malcolm Brogdon and Tony Snell. It will be interesting how Budenholzer figures out the minutes once the Bucks are completely healthy.

What they said:

Bledsoe on going on the road to Detroit

Giannis said it earlier. We took care of business like we should. Now we’re going on the road playing against a tough crowd and a tough team. We’re going to go in, practice, and see what we can do better. We’re looking forward to Game 3 in Detroit.

Casey on the Pistons’ performance tonight

I thought we set the tone in the second quarter. Against a team like Milwaukee you have to do it for a longer period of time. I think we extended it long enough. It showed in the third quarter. They scored 35 points to our 17. It was our Achilles heel tonight. Again, our challenge has been extending hard play, not getting bored with doing fundamentals, not getting bored kicking the ball out, doing those things offensively. Defensively, staying solid and making sure we execute what we need to do. That’s a discipline that has to be at the top of our charts going into next game and next year.

In case you missed it:

*The Bucks took a 2-0 series lead with Wednesday night’s 120-99 win over the Pistons. This is Milwaukee’s first 2-0 lead in a playoff series since it went up 2-0 over Charlotte in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2001.

*This is the first time since 1974, and the fourth time in franchise-playoff-history, that Milwaukee has won consecutive playoff games by 20+ points.

*As a team the Bucks shot 52.2% from the field while holding the Pistons to just 37.4% shooting. This marks the 20th occasion in Bucks playoff history where Milwaukee has shot 50% or better while holding its opponent to under 40% shooting. The Bucks are 19-1 in such games.

*The Bucks hauled in 54 rebounds on the night, marking their second consecutive playoff game hauling in 50+ rebounds. This is just the fourth time in franchise-playoff-history that the Bucks have hauled in 50+ rebounds in back-to-back games (most recently in 2001).

*Giannis tallied just his fourth-career playoff game with 25+ points and 10+ rebounds, as he finished the night with 26 points and 12 rebounds.

*Middleton logged his 11th career playoff game with 20+ points as he poured in 24 points and dished out a team-high eight assists.

What’s next?

Two down, two to go as the Bucks will travel to Detroit for game three Saturday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00pm.

NBA playoff predictions

After a regular season to remember in the NBA, the playoffs finally begin. We at The Zone took a look at each of the eight first round playoff matchups and gave our predictions.

Enjoy!

No. 1 Toronto Raptors vs No. 8 Washington Wizards

| The Raptors had their best season in franchise history this year, finishing with 59 wins and at the top of the conference for the first time ever. Toronto changed the style of play from previous seasons in hopes of being more competitive in the playoffs.

| Washington was one of the NBA’s more disappointing teams this season, partly because star guard John Wall missed half the season due to a knee surgery. They’ve got more talent than the average No. 8 seed but have been unable to put everything together.

| Toronto has struggled in the playoffs previously, as the Raptors have notoriously lost nine consecutive series opening games. It wouldn’t come as a shock if that trend continued, and the Wizards have a punchers chance in this series, but I think it’s one that ultimately goes the Raptors way in six games.

| Raptors in five | Zach Heilprin

| Raptors in six – Joe Miller, Nelson Raisbeck

| Raptors in seven – Ebo Thoreson

No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers vs No. 6 Miami Heat

| The 76ers are the youngest group in the playoffs, with most of their key players lacking playoff experience of any sort. Joel Embiid is going to be out for the beginning of the series due to facial surgery to repair a fracture suffered late in the season. Ben Simmons is in his first year on the court, and first overall draft pick Markelle Fultz missed most of the season due to injury. With all that being said, the Sixers enter the playoffs as winners of 16 straight games and are arguably the second-best team in the Eastern Conference at the moment.

| Miami has no star power. The Heat run a great system offensively and play terrific defense. Erik Spolestra is a great coach in this league and is a big reason as to why the Heat are in the position they’re currently in. Miami is going to be able to dirty this series up and make things difficult for the Sixers. Things typically slow down in the playoffs and that’s what Miami is going to try and do.

| Miami is probably the scariest first round matchup for Philadelphia because of how well they play defense. With Embiid’s status unknown, the Heat have a puncher’s chance in this series, and it helps Miami’s cause that the Sixers have little postseason experience. I think the Heat make this really interesting but not enough. Sixers in seven.

| Philadelphia in four – Thorseon

| Philadelphia in five | Heilprin

| Philadelphia in six –Raisbeck, Miller

No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs No. 5 Indiana Pacers

| The Cleveland Cavaliers enter the playoffs with the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference, but make no mistake, they’re the favorites to reach the Finals for the fourth consecutive season. LeBron James is playing at one of the highest levels of his career, and the Cavs enter the playoffs having won 10 of their last 12, with the last loss being a throwaway game to the Knicks on the regular season’s final day.

| The Indiana Pacers were expected to be on the outside looking in of the playoffs this season after this summer’s trade of Paul George for Victor Oladipo. Instead of that being the case, Oladipo turned into a player that deserves to be named to an All-NBA team this season and the Pacers find themselves as the No. 5 seed. Indiana had a terrific season and overachieved everyone’s expectations.

| Typically, the matchup between the fourth and fifth place teams is the one regarded as a toss-up. That’s not the case here. The Cavs are playing their best basketball of the season right now, and James hasn’t lost a single first round game since 2012. While that streak may very well end, James also has never been on a team that lost in the first round of the playoffs. This version of the Cavaliers won’t be the first. Cleveland in five.

| Cavs in four – Thoreson

| Cavs in five | Heilprin

| Cleveland in six – Raisbeck

| Cavs in seven – Miller

No. 1 Houston Rockets vs No. 8 Minnesota Timberwolves

| Houston wasn’t a hot pick to finish with the best record in the NBA at the beginning of the season as the Golden State Warriors were coming off their second championship in three seasons. But the Rockets came out on fire this season, overtook the Warriors for the best record on the final night before the all-star break, and never looked back.

| On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Minnesota Timberwolves needed to win a game on the final night of the regular season over the Denver Nuggets to earn the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Minnesota was sitting comfortably in playoff position for much of the year, however star guard Jimmy Butler needed knee surgery and missed 17 games.

| The key thing to watch in this series is the disparity between 3-point shooting by these two teams. Minnesota is dead last in the NBA in number of 3s made during the regular season and Houston is first in the league with 1,256 made 3s. The Wolves made 658 this year. You can do whatever math you want, but that adds up the Rockets winning this series in four games.

| Rockets in five – Miller, Thoreson, Heilprin

| Rockets in four – Raisbeck

No. 2 Golden State Warriors vs No. 7 San Antonio Spurs

| For the second consecutive year the NBA will be giving us a series between the Warriors and Spurs, and for the second straight year it almost promises to be a disappointment. This year the Warriors have been one of the best teams in the NBA, but nowhere near reaching full-potential (what an insane sentence to type, but it’s undeniably true). Stars Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green have all missed time due to injury. But the latter three will all be healthy enough to participate in this series, giving the Warriors the clear talent edge.

| The Spurs have now made the playoffs for 21 consecutive seasons, which is remarkable to think about. This year was one of the more impressive runs because all-star forward Kawhi Leonard has only played in nine games this year due to a quad injury and an all-around weird situation. Gregg Popovich reaffirmed that he’s the best coach in the league with what he was able to accomplish with this team this season, but this is a tough draw for them.

| The Warriors just have too much talent. The Spurs will be able to grab a game, maybe two, but an upset here would be an all-timer. Golden State in five.

| Warriors in five – Thoreson, Miller, Heilprin

| Warriors in six – Raisbeck

No. 3 Portland vs No. 6 New Orleans

| Portland got a great year from MVP candidate Damian Lillard, an emerging star in CJ McCollum, and a late season run that solidified them as a playoff team towards the end of the season. The Blazers didn’t close the season as strong as they would’ve liked, but they finished in third place regardless.

| New Orleans is a great story to be able to find a way to reach the playoffs after a devastating injury to center DeMarcus Cousins in late January that ended his season. The Pelicans changed the style they played, ramping up their pace over the last two and a half months of the season to finish first in that category in the NBA. Oh, yeah, and they have the best player in this series in Anthony Davis. He’s relatively unstoppable on both ends, and has come into his own and an undeniable top five talent in the NBA. Guard Jrue Holiday is also one of the more underrated in the NBA.

| The best method I use to try and predict series winners is judging which team has two of the three best players in the series. Portland has Lillard and McCollum, both of whom are better than Holiday of the Pelicans. With that being said, Davis is undoubtedly the best, and Holiday the fourth best. I think Davis has a monster series here. New Orleans in seven.

| Pelicans in six – Thoreson, Miller

| Pelicans in seven – Raisbeck

| Trailblazers in seven | Heilprin

No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs No. 5 Utah Jazz

| The Thunder have the edge in talent here, but the fit hasn’t always been great between Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony. Oklahoma City is an excellent team when Anthony is treated as a third, or even fourth best player behind Steven Adams. Things go sour when Anthony reverts back to playing a similar iso-heavy style to what propelled the Knicks for so many years.

| The Jazz are a team that wasn’t expected to be a playoff competitor, and early on it looked like they weren’t going to be one. The Jazz were propelled by Rookie of the Year candidate Donovan Mitchell and Defensive Player of the Year favorite Rudy Gobert. Utah finished the season on a 29-6 tear to reach the playoffs after starting 18-29. Mitchell is the first rookie to lead a playoff team in scoring since Anthony back in 2003-04 with the Denver Nuggets.

| Mitchell has been great as a rookie, but I think that the playoff atmosphere may be a bit too much for him. The Thunder have the talent, including the two best players in the series. I think it’s closer than it should be on paper, but the Thunder win in six.

| Thunder in six – Thoreson, Heilprin

| Thunder in seven – Miller

| Jazz in seven – Raisbeck

No. 2 Boston Celtics vs No. 7 Milwaukee Bucks

| The Celtics enter the postseason in a bit of an odd situation. While Boston owns the No. 2 seed, they’re not the typical championship threat that is usually the owner of such a seeding. Boston lost all-star guard Kyrie Irving for the season with a knee injury on March 11 and has been relying on rookie forward Jayson Tatum as the primary scoring threat since. The best way to say this is Boston is vulnerable in the first round, far more vulnerable than any No. 2 seed in recent memory. The last No. 2 seed to lose in the first round of the playoffs was Dallas in 2010. It hasn’t happened in the Eastern Conference since 1998.

| The Milwaukee Bucks, like the Washington Wizards, have been one of the more frustrating teams to watch in the NBA this season. Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the 10 best players in the NBA, and Milwaukee does have talented pieces in Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, and Jabari Parker, but the Bucks have struggled to piece it all together and reach full potential.

| For being the No. 7 seed, Milwaukee couldn’t ask for a better situation to try and advance past the first round for the first time since 2001. I think it happens. Bucks in six, for the culture. More on this in Sunday’s series preview.

| Bucks in six – Thoreson, Miller, Heilprin

| Celtics in five – Raisbeck

Playoff scenarios for the Milwaukee Bucks

With just one game remaining in the season, the Milwaukee Bucks have already clinched a place in the NBA Playoffs that are set to begin on Saturday. While that aspect is settled, the seed the Bucks will claim, and the opponent Milwaukee will face is still undecided.

Milwaukee can find itself in either sixth, seventh, or eighth place in the Eastern Conference when the season ends Wednesday night.

Here are the possibilities for the Bucks in terms of seeding and playoff opponents:

No. 6 seed

The Bucks can finish in sixth place simply by winning the final game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night. This is the simplest scenario to explain. Beat the Sixers and claim the No. 6 seed.

That’s not the only way that Milwaukee can finish in sixth, however. If the Miami Heat lose against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night AND the Washington Wizards lose their final game of the season to the Orlando Magic,  then the Bucks finish in sixth regardless of the result against Philadelphia.

As for the opponent there are a couple of possibilities. If the Bucks beat Philadelphia and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeat the New York Knicks on Wednesday it would set up a first round series between Milwaukee and Cleveland. If the Cavaliers were to lose that game, Philadelphia would clinch the No. 3 seed and the Bucks would open up the playoffs against the Sixers.

Cleveland and Philadelphia are the only two possible teams that can finish in third place.

No. 7 seed/No. 8 seed

Things start to get confusing here, but it begins with a Milwaukee loss and a Miami win over the Raptors. Miami and Milwaukee would finish the regular season tied, with the Heat holding the tiebreaker.

This is also dependent on the result Washington’s final two games as well. The Wizards need to finish 1-1 or 0-2 in the remaining two games for the Bucks to finish in seventh place. If all three teams finish tied with the same record (44-38) then the Bucks would be the No. 8 seed.

This is also dependent on what Washington does it its final game on Wednesday night. The Wizards defeated the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night to move into a tie with the Miami Heat for seventh, one game behind the Bucks. In order for the Bucks to finish with the No. 7 seed, the Heat and Wizards need to have the opposite result on Wednesday, paired with a Milwaukee loss to Philadelphia. If the Bucks lose and both Miami and Washington WIN, Milwaukee will finish as the No. 8 seed. If the Bucks lose and both Miami and Washington LOSE, Milwaukee will finish as the No. 6 seed.

The opponents in this case are easy to figure out. The Toronto Raptors have clinched the best record in the conference, making them the No. 1 seed and will face the No. 8 seed. Boston has clinched the No. 2 seed and will face the No. 7 seed.

Draft pick

The one caveat to this entire situation is the fact that the Bucks potentially will lose their 2018 first-round draft pick.

For that to happen the Bucks would need to lose the game against Philadelphia on Wednesday night. If Milwaukee finishes as the No. 6 seed, then the pick will be 17th overall and stay in Milwaukee.

This is part of the trade that was made with the Phoenix Suns to acquire Eric Bledsoe earlier this season. The pick is protected if it falls between 1-10 and 17-30 in the 2018 NBA Draft. If it falls between 11-16 it will be sent to Phoenix.

Winning the game against Philadelphia would be the easiest solution for Milwaukee. A loss to the Sixers puts things in chance as far as the pick goes. If Milwaukee finishes tied with Miami, Washington, or both, then there will be a drawing held on Friday, April 13, to determine the draft order of those three teams. If Milwaukee “wins” that draw and picks 15th (or 16th), the pick is gone. Lastly, if the Bucks “lose” the draw and pick 17th then the pick stays, but it’s something that is entirely out of their control.

What happens if the pick stays in Milwaukee this year?

If the pick lands at 17th and the Bucks keep it, then there’s a chance it is conveyed to Phoenix next year. The 2019 first round pick is protected 1-3 and 17-30, making it unlikely – barring more regression from Milwaukee – that it would be sent to Phoenix then. The Bucks would have to finish in a similar positon next year as this season. It’s something that’s certainly possible but would be another disappointment of a season.

The likeliest scenario – and the one Milwaukee planned on occurring when the trade was made – is that the pick is sent to Phoenix in 2020. In 2020 the pick is protected only if it falls inside of the top seven picks, other than that it will be sent to the Suns.