No. 2 Boston Celtics vs No. 7 Milwaukee Bucks: Series preview

Tale of the tape

No. 2 Boston (55-27) vs No. 7 Milwaukee (44-38)

2017-18 head-to-head matchups: 2-2

10/18/17 | Milwaukee def Boston 108-100

10/26/17 – Boston def Milwaukee 96-89

12/4/17 – Boston def Milwaukee 111-100

4/3/18 – Milwaukee def Boston 106-102

It’s hard to take much away from any of the first three matchups between these two teams. Boston will be without guard Kyrie Irving for the entire series and guard Marcus Smart for at least the first six games. Both of those key players for Boston played in the first three games of the season-series, but not the fourth.

Jason Kidd was also the coach for Milwaukee in the first three meetings, but not the fourth, and guard Eric Bledsoe was a member of the Phoenix Suns for the first two, and Greg Monroe was a member of the Bucks for the first two, a member of the Suns when the teams met the third time, and wearing a Boston uniform for the final matchup.

So, yeah, quite a bit has changed for these two teams since the first battle in October.

Key players to watch

Giannis Antetokounmpo – This one is obvious. As Antetokounmpo goes, so go the Bucks. He’s going to be the best player on the floor in every game the Bucks play in this series. If Antetokounmpo struggles in this series the Bucks have no chance, even if Boston is shorthanded.

Al Horford – The Celtics will look at Horford to be a big piece offensively with Kyrie Irving shelved for the entirety of the playoffs. Horford has been consistently good this season, even if his performance has flown under the radar this year. Horford has been a key in the matchups against Milwaukee during the regular season. However, a considerable amount of the damage he did came with Thon Maker defending him. It would be a surprise to see Maker on the floor much, if at all, with the game’s result undecided.

X-Factors

Jabari Parker – He’s been looking more comfortable on the floor recently as he returned from the knee injury that robbed him of the end of the season last year and the first few months this season. If Parker can provide a punch offensively to take some pressure off Antetokounmpo and show a pulse defensively then the Bucks will be in good shape. It’s always interested to see how players respond to their first taste of the playoffs, and this marks the first time Parker has been healthy enough to play in a postseason game.

Jayson Tatum – If Kyrie Irving had missed the entire season, the world may be talking about Tatum as a serious contender for the Rookie of the Year. Since Irving was shut down for the season on March 11, Tatum has scored 17.1 points per game which has been second on the Celtics in that stretch. He’s also defended at a relatively high level for a rookie. Like Parker, Game 1 on Sunday will be his first taste of playoff action. He’ll need to play as well as he did in the regular season, or better, for the Celtics to have a chance in this series.

Coaching

Brad Stevens – During the regular season the Celtics overachieved given everything that the team had to deal with. The injury to star forward Gordon Heyward on opening night, Irving missing as much time as he did, and relying on as many rookies as the Celtics have points towards this team finishing around the 40-win mark. Stevens is a tremendous coach and deserves great consideration for Coach of the Year for the job he did this year. If not for him, Boston wouldn’t have a shot in this series.

Joe Prunty – With Jason Kidd being fired in January, Prunty took over the team on an interim basis. He’ll get a chance to interview for the job following the season, but the sense around the league is that – barring something unforeseen – someone else will be the coach for Milwaukee next season. He’s done an OK job with the team as he’s had to balance injuries and easing Parker back into the game flow.

Schedule

Game 1: Milwaukee @ Boston, 4/15, 12 p.m. CT, TNT

Game 2: Milwaukee @ Boston, 4/17, 7 p.m. CT, TNT

Game 3: Boston @ Milwaukee, 4/20, 8:30 p.m. CT, ESPN

Game 4: Boston @ Milwaukee, 4/22, 12 p.m. CT, ABC

Game 5*: Milwaukee @ Boston, 4/24, TBD, TBD

Game 6*: Boston @ Milwaukee, 4/26, TBD, TBD

Game 7*: Milwaukee @ Boston, 4/28, TBD, TNT

*denotes if necessary

Prediction

If Boston were healthy, with a squad including Kyrie Irving and Gordon Heyward, this series wouldn’t be close. Unfortunately for them, they don’t have that.

The Bucks have two of the three best players in the series in Middleton and Antetokounmpo, and teams that can boast the advantage in that area rarely lose the series. While the Celtics have the advantage in coaching, the Bucks own it in talent.

Milwaukee fans have been waiting since May 20, 2001 to watch their team win a playoff series again. After nearly 17 years they’ll stop waiting on April 26.

Bucks in six.

NBA awards ballot

The end of the 2017-18 NBA season has finally arrived as the playoffs are set to begin on Saturday afternoon. This season has been nothing sort of outstanding from the race for the best record in the NBA between the Rockets, Raptors, and Warriors, to the race for the best odds at the No. 1 pick in this summer’s draft between the Suns, Grizzles, and Hawks.

There have been underachievers – hello, Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards – overachievers – looking at you, Utah and Miami – and everything in between. The season has seen terrific storylines and traumatic injuries. We’ve seen budding stars emerge from the league, and old stars restate claim at the top. The season was one of the better ones in recent memory, and it’s time to cast some (imaginary) votes for the NBA individual awards.

*Disclaimer: I do not have an official vote in any of these categories. This is all for fun*

Most Valuable Player

Until three weeks ago I was firmly in the camp that it was James Harden’s time to win the MVP. He’s had a tremendous season, led Houston to the best record in the NBA, and solidified Houston as a true contender to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy this June.

The last few weeks haven’t mattered to Harden and the Rockets, as they’ve been in firm control of the best record in the NBA for some time. That’s not a knock on Harden, and isn’t being used against him.

Three weeks ago, it looked as if the race to be the representative of the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals was as wide-open as it has been since arguably 2010.

Then, the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, kicked things into high-gear. Now, it would come as a surprise if any of the other seven playoff teams in the East made it to the Finals.

James has had one of the best seasons of his career this season. That’s no small feat considering this is the 15th year in the NBA for James and he turned 33 in December. James is simultaneous breaking “the oldest to…” and “the youngest to…” records at the same time. That’s not necessarily something that factors into this discussion, but it’s something that’s simply astonishing.

Let’s be honest, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been a mess the entire season. It feels as if they’ve had three different seasons over the course of the 82-game slate. Everything points at them being a contender for the first pick in the draft, rather than a championship.

Well, everything except for James.

This year James is averaging career-highs in assists and rebounds – again, his 15th season – while maintaining the highest scoring average he’s had since his final year of his first stint in Cleveland. He’s averaging 27.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 9.2 assists on the season while shooting over 54 percent from the field.

That’s never once been done in the history of the NBA. That deserves a recognition.

The other area that I look at in the favor of James is that this offseason, the Cavaliers lost their second-best player in Kyrie Irving, and the Rockets added an all-NBA player in Chris Paul to their team.

Irving hasn’t been replaced on the Cavaliers, and Paul is an upgrade over nearly every point guard in the league.

The greatest player of this generation – possibly all-time – is having arguably his best season ever. There’s no questioning that he’s the best in the world, and in my mind he’s the most valuable as well.

I’m going to admit, it’s likely that the award goes to Harden. He’s had a terrific season and most years would deserve it, but I can’t pass on what James has been able to do this season.

The rest

First and second place are easy, the rest of the voting isn’t as cut and dry. My top five would look as follows:

LeBron James
James Harden
Anthony Davis
Giannis Antetokounmpo
Damian Lillard

Davis has carried the Pelicans to the playoffs in the absence of DeMarcus Cousins in the second half of the season. He’s been incredible offensively and will likely finish in the top three of the Defensive Player of the Year voting as well.

I’ve been settled on the top three for quite some time, but there’s been fluctuation over the fourth and fifth spots on my ballot over some time. I think that the end of the season has decided it for me, just as it did in the race between first and second.

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s case

Antetokounmpo is the only reason the Bucks are a playoff team. I’ve had the opportunity to watch him up close all season long, and without him the Bucks would be a lottery team, and a bad one at that. He’s been terrific all season and deserves to finish in the top five, especially after the Bucks closed the season out strong.

Hurting Antetokounmpo is the fact that his team, the Milwaukee Bucks, finished in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Without him the Bucks would likely be fighting for the worst record in the NBA, but instead they’re a playoff team. The common thought about the career path of Antetokounmpo is that he’s a future MVP. While he had a terrific year this year and deserves to finish in the top five, this isn’t the year he wins the award for the first time, and it shouldn’t be.

A top five finish would be an accomplishment for Antetokounmpo, and he should be thought of as a front-runner for the award next season.

Lillard was going to finish in fourth place before the Blazers struggled to end the season. With two weeks to go I had him penciled in there, but the close of Milwaukee paired with Portland’s struggles and his injury dropped him down to fifth.

Close but just missed

Kevin Durant, DeMar DeRozen

Defensive Player of the Year

This one took some thinking because the top two players have both missed a significant amount of time due to injuries, but there’s no denying Rudy Gobert’s defensive impact on the Utah Jazz.

With him in, the Jazz have one of the best, if not the best defense in the league. Without him, they’re a lottery team.

Joel Embiid has been absolutely terrific as well for Philadelphia, and very well could win this award one day, but this one deservingly goes to Gobert.

Here’s my top three:

Rudy Gobert
Joel Embiid
Anthony Davis

Coach of the Year

The Utah Jazz have no business being a playoff team. Their leading scorer is a rookie, they lost their franchise player in the offseason as Gordon Heyward left in free agency, and they started the season 19-28.

Since then they’ve gone 29-6 and finished in fifth place in the Western Conference. The Jazz have been one of the best teams in the NBA since the end of January. Quin Snyder has done a masterful job with this group and earns my vote in a very crowded field this year.

Here’s my top three:

Quin Snyder
Brett Brown
Dwane Casey

Close but just missed

Brad Stevens, Gregg Popovich

Most Improved Player

This is possibly the one category that may be the easiest to decide for end of season awards this year. Victor Oladipo is on his third team in three seasons and turned into a star out of nowhere for the Indiana Pacers.

This year the Pacers were expected to be a lottery team, instead they’re the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. That’s thanks in large part to the play of Oladipo. After struggling to find his fit alongside Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook last season he was traded to Indiana in exchange for Paul George. Oladipo has thrived beyond anyone’s expectations for the Pacers. He may win this one unanimously.

Here’s my top three:

Victor Oladipo
Steven Adams
Fred VanVleet

Rookie of the Year

This is an award that has sparked heated debate across the league. The top two is evidently clear in Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell, but that’s where agreements seem to stop by opposing sides.

Simmons has been the better player this year. He’s averaging over 16 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists for the year. That’s unprecedented, and if he were a “normal” rookie then he would likely win this award in a landslide.

The problem with his case to some is that he was drafted in 2016, not 2017, but missed the entire 2016-17 season due to injury. While this is his first season on the floor, it’s his second year around professional basketball.

I understand that argument, but I don’t agree with it. By definition, if a player has never played an NBA game entering the season then he’s a rookie. Simmons meets that criteria, therefore he’s the Rookie of the Year in my opinion.

That doesn’t downplay what Mitchell has been able to do for the Jazz. He’s the first rookie to lead a playoff team in scoring since Carmelo Anthony did so with Denver in 2003-04. Mitchell  has been a huge reason as to why the Jazz have been able to turn things around.

He just hasn’t been as good as Simmons this season.

Both players are future stars, potentially even future MVPs, but Simmons was the better rookie.

My top three:

Ben Simmons
Donovan Mitchell
Jayson Tatum

Sixth Man of the Year

Lou Williams of the LA Clippers helped keep LA in the playoff race until the first week of April after the franchise traded away Blake Griffin. He finished in the top 20 in scoring in the NBA coming off the bench, and at times was the best player the Clippers had this year. He earns my vote

My top three:

Lou Williams
Wayne Ellington
The Toronto Raptors Bench Unit

Examining Milwaukee’s west coast trip

A few weeks back, we went and looked at the games the Milwaukee Bucks should win, could go either way, and those that would likely be losses as the playoffs approach. With nine games remaining the Bucks are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, holding a lead of a half-game over the Miami Heat.

With the playoffs right around the corner, and the battle for playoff seeding ongoing for the Bucks, it was decided to take a look at the west coast road trip Milwaukee is embarking on. The Bucks start things off with the Clippers and finish up with the Nuggets, while making stops against Golden State and Los Angeles in between.

To see the previous list, click here.

1. 3/27 @ LA Clippers

The Bucks faced the Clippers less than a week before facing them for the second and final time. LA raced out to a double-digit lead after the first quarter and never looked back, handing Milwaukee a 127-120 loss. When the two teams meet on Tuesday in Los Angeles, the stakes will be just as high for each team. The Clippers currently sit in 10th place in the Western Conference, two games behind eighth place Minnesota with nine games remaining.

The Bucks and Clippers are similar teams in terms of talent, although the Bucks may have underachieved more than the Clippers this season. This is a game that could go either way. A win by the Clippers in similar fashion to the first matchup would be a surprise to no one, but neither would a Milwaukee victory.

2. 3/29 @ Golden State Warriors

When the original list was released a few weeks ago, this game was listed as a likely loss for the Bucks. Since that was stated, Warriors guard Steph Curry has been injured twice, including a regular season ending knee injury, guard Klay Thompson has fractured his thumb, forward Kevin Durant has injured his ribs, and forward Draymond Green has missed time.

Green will be expected to play when the Bucks visit Golden State, and Curry will not be on the floor. As for Durant and Thompson, there’s a chance those two suit up for the first time in a few weeks when the Warriors and Bucks square off. If Durant and Thompson play, it’s still a winnable game for the Bucks. If those two aren’t in action, then the Bucks should win this game due to Golden State’s lack of star power.

3. 3/30 @ Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers went through a stretch post all-star break where they were playing really good basketball. Since then, they’ve cooled off and will very likely finish with a losing record for the fifth consecutive season. Before the Lakers’ loss to Detroit on Monday, rookie guard Lonzo Ball had been experiencing his toughest shooting stretch of the season. The Lakers have also been without rookie Josh Hart and sixth-man Isaiah Thomas as of late.

The Bucks are certainly the better team in this matchup but playing games on back-to-back nights is never an easy thing, despite Milwaukee having one of the NBA’s best records in those situations. If this game were played on regular rest for the Bucks it would be a game they should win, but the back-to-back makes it more difficult. It’s still a very winnable game for Milwaukee, just not one that would result in a stunning loss.

4. 4/1 @ Denver Nuggets

Denver has had an opportunity to grasp playoff positioning out west over the past couple of weeks and failed to do so. The Nuggets have had bad losses to the Lakers, Grizzles, and Heat in the past few weeks. Denver is still talented, there’s no disputing that, but their defense has been less than stellar as of late, allowing 120 or more points in three out of four games.

When these teams matched up prior to the all-star break the Nuggets were playing basketball than they are now. This is a winnable game for the Bucks, just as the prior one was, but Denver still has offensive firepower in the form of Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap. When this game rolls around, the Nuggets may be fighting for their playoff lives.

Forecasting the Bucks schedule down the stretch

The Milwaukee Bucks are in the thick of a playoff race in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks could realistically land anywhere between the third seed and the eighth seed when the season comes to a close in mid-April.

Milwaukee is currently a couple of games into a stretch of facing seven of eight games against teams in the playoffs. The lone exception in this stretch is the Detroit Pistons, they’re currently the first team out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.

The Bucks have 23 games remaining on their schedule. Those games can be broken down into four different categories: toss up, no business losing, likely loss, and borderline between two of the other categories.

The category with the most games remaining is ‘toss up’. The Bucks have nine of these contests remaining, they also have a pair of games that borders between ‘toss up’ and ‘likely loss’. There are currently eight games that Milwaukee has no business losing, and three games that Milwaukee will likely lose for various reasons.

Here’s how the schedule breaks down, with the specific reasons as to why that game is listed in a certain category:

TOSS UP

| vs Washington, 2/27 – The Wizards have been one of the NBA’s hottest teams as of late, going 8-3 since All-Star guard John Wall went down with a knee injury. Both teams are entering the game with one day of rest. The Wizards are currently in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.

| @ Detroit, 2/28 – The Bucks are the better team in this game without a doubt, however things can get crazy when one the second night of a back-to-back, especially when travel is involved. Milwaukee does have the best record in the NBA on the second night of a back-to-back this season at 9-3. Detroit will be playing their third game in four days, however they will be off on the 27th.

| vs Indiana, 3/2 – The Pacers and Bucks could potentially be matching up with each other in the first round of the playoffs. This game is the third game in four days for Milwaukee. The Pacers will be halfway through a four-game road trip; however they should be riding a six-game winning streak entering this game. As of this writing the Pacers have won four straight games and play at Dallas and Atlanta – two teams that are firmly in the race for the No. 1 overall pick – before hosting Milwaukee.

| vs Philadelphia, 3/4 – The 76ers are currently fighting for playoff positioning at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. They’ve been a much better team when center Joel Embiid is in action. Milwaukee defeated Philadelphia back in interim head coach Joe Prunty’s first week while Embiid was not on the floor. This game will be the third game in four nights for the 76ers, however they are off the night before and Embiid should be on the floor barring something unforeseen. Philadelphia is 29-18 when Embiid plays this season and just 3-8 without him in the lineup.

| @ Indiana, 3/5 – It’s tough to face a team twice in a three day stretch. It makes things even more difficult when it’s on the second night of a back-to-back and the fifth game in seven days for Milwaukee. On Indiana’s side of things, they are also on the second night of a back-to-back. The Pacers from this point on do not have more than one day off in between games for the rest of the season.

| vs LA Clippers, 3/21 – The Clippers are a team fighting for playoff contention out in the Western Conference. Guard Lou Williams has been lighting it up out west for them and they’re currently a game behind the Denver Nuggets for the final playoff spot in the conference. LA is on the second night of a back-to-back in this, having to face Minnesota the night before. The Bucks will have the day off before this game, having faced the Cleveland Cavaliers two days prior.

| vs San Antonio Spurs, 3/25 – The Spurs have had to endure a season without star forward Kawhi Leonard and have still managed to stay above water at third place in the Western Conference. A win here by Milwaukee would surprise no one, however a loss to the Spurs would be far from shocking as well.

| @ LA Clippers, 3/27 – Everything that’s above about the Clippers holds true, however in this case things might be tougher for the Bucks. This game is the first on the start of a west coast trip that could be rather daunting for Milwaukee. The Clippers, as stated above, are a talented team, with a record of 16-12 at home. Again, this could be a win, but it wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if the Bucks lost this game.

| @ Los Angeles Lakers, 3/30 – The Lakers are without a doubt the least talented team on this list. The reason that this game could go either way is everything surrounding it. The Bucks will be on the second night of a back-to-back – having faced the Golden State Warriors the night before – and their third game in four nights. The Lakers have also been much tougher at home as of late, having won their last nine games at the Staples Center. The fast pace of the Lakers also makes for a tough matchup on the second night of a back-to-back.

| @ Philadelphia, 4/11 – This game is the last of the regular season for both teams, and much of the outcome depends on who plays and what has already been decided in terms of playoff seeding.

LIKELY LOSS

| vs Houston, 3/7 – The Rockets are currently sporting the best record in the NBA and this game closes out the toughest stretch of the season for the Bucks. Milwaukee will be playing its eighth game in 12 days against potential playoff teams. The Rockets will be on the second night of a back-to-back, which bodes well for the Bucks, but that’s the only thing they have going their way in the matchup.

| @ Golden State, 3/29 – The Warriors may not have the best record in the NBA at this point in the season for the first time in a long time, but they still have the most talent. Oracle Arena is a notoriously tough place to play and the Bucks haven’t matched up well with them over the past few seasons. It would be quite the surprise for Milwaukee to pull off the upset.

| vs Boston, 4/3 – This game would be the least surprising win for the Bucks in this category, but there are plenty of reasons why this should be a loss for Milwaukee. The Celtics haven’t been playing their best basketball as of late, but they still hold the best defense in the NBA. Teams also typically do not play well in their first game back home off of a long road trip. For example, the Bucks narrowly defeated the Atlanta Hawks earlier in February when returning from a four-game east coast road trip.

NO BUSINESS LOSING

| vs New York Knicks, 3/9 – The Knicks once had playoff aspirations. That quickly changed when All-Star forward Kristaps Porzingis tore the ACL in his left knee against Milwaukee on February 6. Now, the Knicks are hoping to lose as many games as possible in an effort to have the best possible draft pick this summer.

| @ Memphis, 3/12 – The Grizzles are in a similar boat as the Knicks. They lost star guard Mike Conley Jr. early in the season with a season ending heel injury. Since then things haven’t worked out. They fired coach David Fizdale earlier this season and have now shifted to playing younger guys more minutes instead of All-Star forward Marc Gasol and Tyreke Evans. They’re hunting for losses.

| @ Orlando, 3/14 – The Magic got off to a hot start this season, but they too have been in the race for the NBA’s worst record. They had a terrific loss last week against the Chicago Bulls with a late turnover to give the Bulls the victory.

| vs Atlanta, 3/17 – Atlanta has made no secret of what their intentions have been this season. They’re arguably the worst team in the NBA, and trail Phoenix for the worst record in the NBA by a half game. They’re trying to lose and Milwaukee should have no problem handing them a loss.

| @ Chicago, 3/23 – The Bulls must really be regretting the hot streak they went on when Nikola Mirotić returned from facial fractures. Chicago started the season 3-20, but went on a tear when Mirotić returned. They’re now trying to make up for lost time and racking up the losses.

| vs Brooklyn Nets, 4/5 – The Nets are the only team in this category that isn’t attempting to lose on purpose. They do not own their first-round draft pick in this summer’s draft, however they’re the owners of one of the worst records in the league. The Bucks certainly out-talent them and have a pair of blowout wins against the Nets already. This game should make for a third.

| @ New York Knicks, 4/7 – See above

| vs Orlando, 4/9 – Everything above continues to hold true for the Magic, although with this matchup being so late in the season the Bucks could be resting players if playoff positioning is already settled.

BORDERLINE BETWEEN TOSS UP AND LIKELY LOSS

| vs Cleveland, 3/19 – The Bucks have dropped two of three to the Cavaliers this season, although that Cleveland team is drastically different than the one they’ll be seeing in mid-March. Cleveland has already racked up some impressive wins since the trade deadline and has an easy schedule leading up to the game against Milwaukee. The thing Milwaukee has on its side for this game is that Cleveland will be returning home from a season-high six game road trip.

| @ Denver, 4/1 – The Nuggets are one of the more underrated teams in the NBA and dropped 134 points against the Bucks right before the All-Star break. While it’s unlikely Denver will be able to repeat that performance, this still looks like a game that will be very tough for the Bucks to win. Milwaukee will be on its third game in four nights and at the end of its four-game west coast road trip. Playing in the altitude of the Mile High City is always a tough challenge for visitors as well.

Last shots: Warriors 108, Bucks 94

MILWAUKEE – The Milwaukee Bucks fell to the Golden State Warriors 108-94 at home on Friday night.

Nineteen last shots for the 19 field goals attempted by Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo on Friday night.

1. For much of the season the Bucks have played to the level of their competition. They’ve had impressive wins against the likes of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs, and Minnesota Timberwolves.

2. Milwaukee has also lost frustrating games to teams that shouldn’t be competitive with them. They’ve slipped up against the Bulls, and Hornets twice, the Mavericks, and the Jazz.

3. The showdown against the Warriors was one that could be thought of as a measuring stick for this young Milwaukee team that’s still looking to ‘Own the Future.’ After all, the Warriors were in the shoes of Milwaukee four or five years ago.

4. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, the Bucks are 1-5 against the Warriors. While the lone win is certainly a memorable one, it is the only one. The Bucks famously ended Golden State’s NBA record season-opening 24-game winning streak to start the 2015-16 season that saw the Warriors win an NBA record 73 games.

5. Friday night fell in line with much of the past between the two teams. The length and athleticism of the Bucks certainly makes life difficult for Golden State at times, but in the end the Bucks just don’t quite have the talent that the Warriors do. Few teams, if any in the NBA do.

6. Give the Bucks credit, they were able to cut into a 14-point lead built by the Warriors. Golden State typically isn’t a team that blows leads. It helped that the Warriors were without star guard Steph Curry, but nonetheless, a young team very easily could have packed it in and lied down for the defending champs in that situation.

7. The Bucks came all the way back to take the lead at 82-80 on a Tony Snell 3-pointer with 56.8 seconds left in the third quarter. The Bucks outscored the Warriors 33-17 in the third quarter, thanks in large part to 11 points from guard Malcolm Brogdon.

8. Brogdon knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in the quarter and the Bucks hit 6-of-8 shots from behind the arc as a team. One of the more impressive aspects of the third quarter run for Milwaukee is that much of it came with Antetokounmpo on the bench. He played 7:19 of the quarter. While he was on the bench for the final 4:41 of the period, Warriors star Kevin Durant played the full quarter and was held to four points on 2-of-6 shooting.

9. Outside of that quarter, Durant was 10-of-14 shooting for 22 points. He was the difference maker on the floor Friday night, as he often is for the Warriors. Durant takes this Golden State team to another level. Prior to acquiring him in the summer of 2016 the Warriors were one of the best teams the NBA had ever seen. They were explosive offensively and terrific defensively. They were still mortal, however, as their margin for error wasn’t ultimately as large as previously thought. Adding Durant to that equation made their margin for error humongous.

10. Previously, a third quarter run that the Bucks had might have been enough to win the game against the Warriors. Durant eliminated that Friday. His fourth quarter sealed the win for Golden State.

11. With the Warriors clinging to a 94-90 lead after a pair of free throws by Eric Bledsoe, Durant knocked down a fadeaway jumper from the left elbow over the outstretched hand of Khris Middleton. The defense played by Middleton was fantastic. He was in the right position, did everything possible, and it didn’t matter as Durant splashed the ball through the net from 18-feet out.

12. As the pair went down to the other end of the floor Durant had words for Middleton. While it’s not revealed what they said, Durant would not have been out of line if he had apologized to Middleton for what he just did, and what he was about to do.

13. Middleton got the ball on the right wing, attempted to get to the rim and make a pass to the corner. He ended up turning the ball back over to the Warriors. Once back down the floor Durant came off a screen to the top of the key and buried a 3-pointer.

14. Just like that, the Warriors went from being in a close game with 3:11 left in regulation to sucking the life and sending the Bucks’ fans home with 2:19 left.

15. The easy comparison to make here is one between Antetokounmpo and Durant. Both are near 7-foot in stature and athletic freaks that can almost score at will. Obviously, Durant is a much more polished shooter from the outside and Antetokounmpo can be considered the better scorer around the rim at this point.

16. To ask Antetokounmpo to become Durant at this point in his career is a tall task. Durant very well could go down as one of the five best scorers in NBA history. Their styles of play may never allow them to be realistic matches for a legitimate comparison, but the impact that they have on the game is what the Bucks should hope can be compared in the future.

17. Antetokounmpo has elevated the Bucks to a playoff-caliber team, and one that could potentially make noise in the Eastern Conference this year. One day, the Bucks hope to be in the same situation as the Warriors where they’re hunting for championships and playing with a high margin for error. They’re not there yet, but neither were the Warriors five seasons ago.

18. “I think we’ve been inconsistent,” said Brogdon of Milwaukee’s play in the first half of the season. “I think we’ve honestly underperformed so far, but I think we have a lot of potential and we’re going to rise to the expectations and rise to the occasion in the second half of the season.”

19. The ceiling in Milwaukee is certainly high as long as Antetokounmpo is in the picture. The margin for error still has a long way to go until the Bucks become a true championship contender.

Bucks beat Thunder 97-95

The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 97-95 on Friday night thanks to last second heroics from forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Antetokounmpo finished with a team high 23 points on the night. His final two came on a dunk over Russell Westbrook of the Thunder with 0.9 seconds remaining in regulation. Westbrook had tied the game at 95 with a 3-pointer on the previous possession. He finished an assist shy of a triple-double, posting a line of 40 points, 14 rebounds, and nine assists.

The play was controversial as it appeared Antetokounmpo’s left foot was on the baseline as he went past Oklahoma City’s Josh Huestis before dunking as Westbrook challenged the shot. The play was not called correctly on the floor, nor was it reviewed by the officiating crew.

Milwaukee placed four players in double-figures scoring, as Khris Middleton, John Henson, and Tony Snell all scored 15 or more. Guard Eric Bledsoe had an off night and was the only player in the starting lineup to not score 20 points, he finished with eight.

The Bucks are off for the rest of 2017. They resume action on New Year’s Day north of the border against the Toronto Raptors. Tip-off is at 6:30PM.

Bucks beat Cavaliers 119-116

The Milwaukee Bucks beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 119-116 on Tuesday night to get back in the win column after three consecutive losses.

Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo had 27 points, including an important and-1 in the final minute of the game to give the Bucks a 5-point cushion. Antetokounmpo also had 13 rebounds and eight assists on the night. Milwaukee also received a strong scoring effort from Eric Bledsoe with 26 points. In total, the Bucks had five players score 15 or more points.

Milwaukee did lead by as many as 20 points during the game, but the Cavaliers were able to erase that lead during the final period, climbing all the way back to take the lead with roughly 4 minutes remaining.

LeBron James led all scorers with 39 points on the evening. He also dished out seven assists for the Cavaliers.

The Bucks more to 16-13 with the win. They will return to action on Friday night against the Charlotte Hornets at home.

Last Shots: Bulls 115, Bucks 109

MILWAUKEE – The Milwaukee Bucks lost their second game in a row Friday night to the Chicago Bulls 115-109. Forwards Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton were the leading scorers with 29 points each.

The Bucks were shorthanded on the night, only dressing 11 players. All 11 saw time on the court in the first half as well.

Sixteen last shots for the 16 rebounds hauled in by Antetokounmpo in the loss.

1. The Bulls entered the game having won their last four games. That winning streak coincided with forward Nikola Mirotic returning from facial fractures sustained during a fight with teammate Bobby Portis during preseason training camp.

2. For much of the season, Chicago had been one of the worst teams in the NBA. They started off the season with a 3-20 record. They’re still one of the lesser teams in the league strictly on a talent basis, but they’re playing much better basketball now than they have all season.

3. Milwaukee had been hot as of late as well. The Bucks dropped their previous game against New Orleans on Wednesday night, but had won 6-of-7 prior to that. It seemed as if the Bucks were really finding their stride and becoming acclimated to Eric Bledsoe’s game.

4. Antetokounmpo continues to establish himself as an MVP candidate. He had 29 points and 16 rebounds against the Bulls. There are still areas where he needs to improve his game in order to get to the next level of stardom. An area where he has significant room for growth is his 3-point shooting. Antetokounmpo was 1-of-3 behind the arc against the Bulls, but the effect it has isn’t one that necessarily shows up on the stat sheet on a nightly basis.

5. Right now, Antetokounmpo has to deal with more defensive players closer to the rim and his teammates don’t have the necessary room to operate at times. It’s easier for the opposition to disrupt the flow of Milwaukee’s offense. That was something that the Bucks struggled with against the Bulls, specifically guard Malcolm Brogdon and Bledsoe.

6. Brogdon and Bledsoe both struggled to find a rhythm offensively. They combined for 18 points on 8-of-25 shooting. The tandem also turned in a 1-for-9 night from behind the 3-point arc. Bledsoe had five turnovers as well.

7. “Honestly, it was just one of those nights for me and Eric [Bledsoe],” Brogdon said. “We were out of rhythm. I didn’t think they did a specifically good job on us, there’s just games where you’re out of rhythm. It happens.”

8. When Antetokounmpo does develop that shot from distance he’ll become nearly impossible for opposing defenses to deal with. Until then, he’s going to have less room to operate because defenders will be able to sag off him when he’s in possession above the 3-point line.

9. The Bucks still managed to find plenty of open looks throughout the night that didn’t go down. One of the more oft used clichés in the NBA is that it’s a make or miss league. That was the case on Friday night.

10. As a team, the Bucks shot 48% from the field, which is considered a good offensive night. Their struggle came from deep where they shot 27% from long distance. They also shot 69% from the free throw line.

11. “We just have to keep shooting,” coach Jason Kidd said. “You have to believe the next one is going in. We had a lot of wide open shots that just didn’t go down for us tonight and you have to play perfect when you are down, defensively and offensively. We couldn’t get stops, nor could we make open shots tonight.”

12. On the defensive end, the Bucks had trouble stopping the one-two punch of Portis and Mirotic. They had 27 and 22 points, respectively to lead Chicago. Since Mirotic returned to the floor from injury they’ve been one of the best two player combinations in the NBA. In the 10 minutes those two were on the floor together against Milwaukee the Bulls outscored the Bucks by seven. The Bulls also shot 60% and reached the free throw line 13 times in that stretch.

13. “Wow, it’s been crazy to be honest,” said Mirotic on the duo of he and Portis being as effective as they have been. “We did play last year a little bit together, but it is not the same now. We both step up and I think we learn how to play with each other during the game. We need to give credit to Fred [Hoiberg] for that. Fred [Hoiberg] is the one who is putting us in the right spots. Right now, we are both playing some minutes together because it’s working. The team is playing well. From my side, I’m just wishing that we continue what is the best for the team.”

14. Typically, this would be a non-story if it were the case with 99% of potential two-man combinations on NBA rosters currently. What makes this so odd is the incident that happened during the preseason. Portis punched Mirotic in the face during an altercation during a preseason practice and caused him to miss the first 23 games of the season with two fractures in his face. Portis was suspended for eight games for his actions.

15. After the game Mirotic said that they communicate on the floor but still haven’t talked off of it. That alone makes it one of the stranger stories in basketball.

16. The Bucks hit the road for the second night of a back-to-back tomorrow in Houston. The Rockets beat the Spurs on Friday night at home. They’re sporting the best record in basketball and have won their last 12 games.

Milwaukee Bucks fall to Pelicans 115-108

The Milwaukee Bucks (15-11) lost to the New Orleans Pelicans (15-14) 115-108 on Wednesday night on the road. Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 32 points and collected nine rebounds but Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins combined for 51 points and 23 rebounds for New Orleans to lead them to victory.

The Bucks three-game winning streak was snapped. Milwaukee had entered the game having won six games in their last seven tries.

Milwaukee had four other players join Antetokounmpo in double-figures. Eric Bledsoe and John Henson each had 14 points, Khris Middleton scored 15, and Malcolm Brogdon added in 11 off the bench for Milwaukee.

New Orleans received a 21-point effort from guard E’Twaun Moore to bolster what Cousins and Davis were able to do in the interior throughout the night. Guard Jrue Holiday added in 16 points and eight assists as well for the Pelicans.

The Bucks return to action on Friday night when the Chicago Bulls come to town. Tipoff is at 7pm.

Bucks fall to Jazz 121-108

SALT LAKE CITY — The Milwaukee Bucks dropped the second game of their four game west coast swing to the Utah Jazz 121-108 on Saturday night. Milwaukee falls to 9-9 on the season with the loss.

The Bucks got another strong offensive night out of forward Giannis Antetokounmpo as he finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds. Guard Eric Bledsoe added in 18 points and a team-high seven assists. Off the bench, guards Malcolm Brogdon and Tony Snell each had efficient nights, scoring 19 and 18 points, respectively.

Defensively, however, the team struggled throughout the night. Utah knocked down 18 three-pointers, including three players hitting three or more shots from deep. Rookie Donovan Mitchell led the way for Utah. He had 24 points, thanks in part to hitting six three-pointers on the evening. Forward Joe Ingles chipped in 15 points, with all five of his baskets coming from long-distance. Utah also got 21 points out of Rodney Hood off the bench. It total, Milwaukee allowed the Jazz to shoot 56.8% from the floor on the night.

The Bucks return to action on Tuesday night in Sacramento against the Kings for their third game of this four game west coast trip.