Last shots: Celtics 112, Bucks 96

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

21. And that’s only the Eastern Conference.

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

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

Last shots: Bucks 97, Celtics 86

MILWAUKEE – Nineteen last shots for the 19 assists dished out by the Bucks in Milwaukee’s 97-86 win in Game 6 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Boston Celtics.

1. If Thursday night marked the last time the BMO Harris Bradley Center sees an NBA game, the building went out on a high note. With the Milwaukee Bucks moving next door to the Wisconsin Sports and Entertainment Center at the beginning of next season the Bradley Center is in its final days.

2. The buzzer sounded for what could be the final time, and chants of “Bucks in seven” rang throughout the building. The Bucks forced a Game 7 by virtue of a 97-86 victory over the Celtics in Game 6.

3. This was the game that Milwaukee desperately needed from all-star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. He was much more aggressive than he was in Game 6, finishing with 31 points and 14 rebounds on 13-of-23 shooting.

4. “I thought he played great. I don’t think he forced anything. I think he took the opportunities that were there for him,” interim coach Joe Prunty said after the game.

5. He was everything the Bucks needed in Game 5 in Boston, and he’s going to need to repeat a performance like this in Game 7, but for Thursday night, Antetokounmpo was fantastic.

6. Antetokounmpo scored 20 of his 31 points in the second half and carried his team to the win. His play in the fourth quarter was exactly what a superstar is supposed to do. He scored 12 points in the period. Antetokounmpo took nine shots in the fourth quarter alone, just one less than he had in the entirety of Game 5. He scored eight of Milwaukee’s final 11 points and was the only Bucks player to make a field goal in the final 5:22 of the game.

7. “My team did a great job looking for me. I was able to rebound the ball and find lanes in transition too,” Antetokounmpo said. “I was out there, I was trying to make plays and be aggressive, and that’s what I did tonight.”

8. Guard Malcolm Brogdon went 3-of-4 from the free throw line during that stretch, other than that, every point was scored by Antetokounmpo.

9. Nearly every star player has a moment when they learn how to be the guy to go and win a playoff game for their team in a moment like this. Michael Jordan had “The Shot” over Cleveland’s Craig Ehlo, LeBron James had 25 straight points for the Cavaliers in a pivotal Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Pistons. They both had failed times prior to those instances. It’s very, very rare for a star to enter the league and be able to succeed on this type of stage right away.

10. Time will tell if this is that moment for Antetokounmpo. Thursday night was the biggest moment of his career to date, and he certainly delivered.

11. Antetokounmpo did this two nights after a lackluster performance in Boston, and one night after the world watch Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and James take over games when their teams needed them to most. Oklahoma City was on the verge of elimination, trailing by 25 points only to be rescued by Westbrook and George. Cleveland was tied 2-2 in their series with Indiana when James buried a 3-pointer as time expired to push the Cavaliers to the verge of advancing.

12. Antetokounmpo’s game on Thursday night wasn’t quite at the level of those games, but it was the most important of his career to date, and that’s meaningful for the 23-year-old star.

13. The thing is, this will only be the biggest moment of his career until Saturday evening when Game 7 takes place in Boston. For the first time in his career he has an opportunity to close a team out and win a series. No doubt it will be a tall task on the road, but it’s a moment where he can cement his status as one of the best in the world.

14. Game 7s are where legends are made in the playoffs. On this roster Jason Terry, Matthew Dellavedova, Tyler Zeller, and Eric Bledsoe have all been on a team that has taken part in a Game 7. Only Terry and Bledsoe have seen minutes during one, however. Dellavedova did not play during Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, and Zeller did not play in Boston’s Game 7 against Washington last season.

15. Game 7 is a different animal than anything else in the NBA. Players tend to tighten up, scoring tends to be a bit lower, and every play is magnified.

16. “It’s going to be crazy. It’s do or die at this point,” forward Khris Middleton said following the game. “The crowd in Boston is rowdy, just like they are here. It’s going to be a great game. There are no secrets between teams; it comes down to who has more will.”

17. If the Bucks are going to have a chance at winning Game 7 on the road they need Antetokounmpo to have more will than anyone on the court. He’ll need to have a performance at the level of Thursday night’s or better.

18. That’s what superstars do, and Antetokounmpo has a chance to cement his status on Saturday night.

19. Tip-off on Saturday night in Boston is set for 7 p.m. CT from the TD Garden. Talk to you then.

Last shots: Celtics 92, Bucks 87

Twenty last shots for the 20 free throws attempted by the Milwaukee Bucks in Tuesday night’s 92-87 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs.

1. The Milwaukee Bucks missed an opportunity on Tuesday night, there’s no other way to say it. Granted, the Bucks certainly didn’t receive any help at the end of the game, but an opportunity was missed, nonetheless.

2. The Boston Celtics made adjustments from Games 3 and 4 at the Bradley Center. Forward Semi Ojeleye was shifted into the starting lineup in place of Aron Baynes, and Al Horford moved to center to start the game. The player that seemed to impact the most for Milwaukee was Giannis Antetokounmpo.

3. Antetokounmpo finished with just 10 shots from the floor attempted on the night. He had only two such games with less than 10 shots in the regular season this year. Only in one of those contests did he play the full game.

4. Antetokounmpo passed the ball well, finishing an assist short of a triple-double while posting a final stat line of 16 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists. But that wasn’t what his team needed him to do.

5. Tuesday night was arguably the biggest game of Antetokounmpo’s career to date. The Bucks have realistic expectations of winning this series and had a chance to take a 3-2 series lead in Boston’s gym. Antetokounmpo is still learning how to be a superstar, leader, and winner. At 23 years old, that’s something that’s okay. Few are ready to take over a game at that age, especially in the playoffs.

6. Tuesday night was an opportunity for him to cement himself among the game’s best players. That’s not to say every bona fide super star in the league would have won that game. But it’s worth wondering how many of them would only have attempted 10 shots in the same situation.

7. That’s not to say Antetokounmpo won’t be able to change that in the near future. The Bucks will certainly need him to show up in a big way on Thursday night, but Tuesday was a missed opportunity.

8. Instead, the Bucks will return to the Bradley Center for a win-or-go-home Game 6 on Thursday night.

9. As a team Milwaukee didn’t shoot the ball particularly well. They finished 32-for-87 (36.8%) shooting. Team’s don’t tend to win playoff games when shooting that poorly from the field. The Rockets defeated Minnesota in Game 2 of their first round series this year while shooting 36.5 percent, but that included 16 made 3-pointers, compared to nine by the Bucks.

10. Prior to Houston’s win this year, the last team to win a playoff game shooting the same percentage as the Bucks or worse came in 2015 when the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 2 of the NBA Finals 95-93 while shooting 32.2 percent. So, yeah, it doesn’t happen very often.

11. Aside from Antetokounmpo struggling to find shots, the Bucks had a tough time scoring due to Khris Middleton’s regression to the mean. Through the first four games Middleton was 40-of-65 shooting from the floor for an insane 61.5 percent. Middleton didn’t play poorly on Tuesday, but he also didn’t play spectacular, as he had been.

12. There was no way he was going to be able to keep shooting at that rate. Tuesday night saw Middleton finish 9-of-21 shooting, and he had plenty of good looks that didn’t find their way to the bottom of the net. Shooters have nights like that from time to time, Tuesday was one of them for Middleton.

13. After Milwaukee got strong contributions from Thon Maker, Matthew Dellavedova, and Tony Snell in Games 3 and 4, those role players struggled in Game 5. They combined to score two points on 1-of-12 shooting in 51:53 of floor time. It’s expected that role players don’t play as well on the road as they do at home, but the lack of production from those three hurt Milwaukee after a pair of strong games.

14. Milwaukee was still able to find contributions from its bench, however. Jabari Parker continued strong play after a lackluster start to the series. He had 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting and pulled down eight rebounds.

15. The Bucks also got an unexpected contribution from Shabazz Muhammad. He scored 11 points in just under 10 minutes on the floor. Muhammad had played just over 15 minutes prior to Tuesday night, including two DNP-CD’s in Games 1 and 4. The only meaningful minutes he had played came in the Game 2 loss.

16. As for the end of the game, Milwaukee has a right to be upset with the way things turned out. With 1:16 left in regulation the Bucks trailed 84-79 as Boston’s Horford released a shot on the left wing. The issue was that the 24-seond shot clock had expired and should have resulted in the Bucks gaining control of the ball via turnover.

17. That didn’t happen, as Horford’s shot hit the rim and an offensive rebound was credited to Ojeleye. While the Celtics didn’t score on that extra possession, the Bucks didn’t get the ball back until 50 seconds left in the game.

18. There’s no way of knowing whether or not those 26 seconds would have changed the outcome for Milwaukee, but it certainly would have given them a much better chance at finishing off the comeback.

19. When the last 2-minute report is released by the NBA on Wednesday it will certainly show that the officiating crew headed by Ken Mauer missed a critical call. There will be plenty of other things on the L2M, both correct and incorrect, but that will be the call that stands out the most.

20. The Bucks and Celtics will square off in Game 6 on Thursday night at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. A Milwaukee win would force a decisive Game 7 on Saturday in Boston. A Boston win would end Milwaukee’s season. Talk to you then.

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 104, Celtics 102

MILWAUKEE – Twenty-five last shots for the 25 minutes played by Bucks forward Jabari Parker in Sunday’s 104-102 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 4 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs.

1. The BMO Harris Bradley Center is in its final days of housing Milwaukee Bucks basketball, but the team made sure on Sunday that at least one more game will take place inside the building they’ve called home since 1988.

2. Milwaukee’s 104-102 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 4 on Sunday was in doubt until the final buzzer when Marcus Morris’ shot bounced off the rim. This came after Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo scored his 27th and final point on a tip-in with 5.1 seconds remaining to give the Bucks the lead for good.

3. Milwaukee led by as many as 20 points early in the third quarter, but unlike Game 3, the Celtics were able to find their way back to ultimately take a 100-99 lead in the fourth quarter.

4. Boston’s Jaylen Brown carried his team back into the game as he scored 10 of his game-high 34 points in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t enough for Boston as Khris Middleton and Antetokounmpo combined for 50 points for Milwaukee.

5. The Bucks also got strong play off the bench for the second straight game. Jabari Parker, Thon Maker, and Matthew Dellavedova made key contributions for the Bucks.

6. The first half of the game may have been the best of Parker’s career. He scored 12 points on seven shots to bolster the Bucks’ offense. His offensive contributions are something that are expected as it’s widely known that his best attribute is his ability to seemingly score whenever he feels.

7. What needs to be taken away from Sunday’s game – especially the first half – was Parker’s ability to defend. He had a pair of steals, three blocks, and five rebounds in the first half. It was the best he’s looked defensively since he put a Milwaukee uniform on, and it’s not particularly close.

8. “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,” 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.”

9. When Parker entered the game, the Bucks were trailing 12-5. They outscored the Celtics 46-23 in the remainder of the first half. Parker wasn’t on the floor for all of those minutes, obviously, but with him on the floor the Bucks were a plus-19. That was second on the team, falling behind only Thon Maker.

10. Playoff Thon may officially become a thing. At least inside the Bradley center it is. On Sunday Maker played nearly 31 minutes, which is the second most time on the floor he has gotten in a single game in his career.

11. Offensively, Maker scored eight points, including a pair of threes, which is nothing much to write home about. On the defensive end of the floor, however, Maker was a force again as he finished with five blocked shots for the second consecutive game.

12. Friday night, Dellavedova made a difference defensively, frustrating Boston guard Terry Rozier. Sunday was much of the same in terms of his contribution. He also had one play that can be looked at as a key reason as to why the Bucks came away with the victory.

13. Middleton scored to put the Bucks up 22-17 at with 1.2 seconds remaining in the first quarter. It was a relatively routine, with a nice pump fake to split the Jayson Tatum and Shane Larkin double-team. It’s what came next that set the tone for the rest of the first half.

14. Morris took the ball out of bounds after the Middleton make, and in an attempt to save time — and potentially get a shot up before the quarter expired – rolled it to Larkin. This was the first mistake on the play. Larkin lost track of Dellavedova, which was the second mistake Boston made. Dellavedova raced in, picked up the ball, and threw up a shot off the glass as time expired that bounced in to give the Bucks a 24-17 advantage after one.

15. It’s easy to pick out a single play in a one possession game and say “well, if this would have happened different then things would have been different.” This was the exact play in this game for the Celtics.

16. That’s not to say the Bucks would not have won the game if that play had never happened, there’s no telling how the teams would have executed down the stretch if the Bucks had two less points to their total. But in a game that finished with just a margin of two, it’s easy to look at that winning play and attribute it as a big reason why the Bucks won.

17. Every opportunity that Maker has, he uses to fire up the crowd at the Bradley Center. It seems as if he feeds off that energy, which is not something uncommon for role players. The challenge will be for Maker, Dellavedova, and Parker to replicate this effort inside the TD Garden in Boston on Tuesday for Game 5.

18. This was a great win for Milwaukee, make no mistake about it. There are still plenty of areas to improve for them, however. The end of game execution needs to be better than it was on Sunday, specifically.

19. Eric Bledsoe had another poor game but felt the need to be the one dictating offense as time winds down. That needs to be a time when Antetokounmpo has the ball in his hands. If it isn’t Antetokounmpo, it needs to be Middleton at the very least.

20. With 1:11 left in regulation, and the Bucks clinging to a 99-98 lead, Bledsoe held onto the ball until there were six seconds remaining on the shot clock. He then tried to get the ball to Antetokounmpo who had the smaller Jayson Tatum posted up but threw the ball out of bounds.

21. Things like this simply cannot happen down the stretch for the Bucks if they expect to win on the road. Immediately following this is when Boston took the lead.

22. While Antetokounmpo ended up with the game-winning basket by virtue of a tip-in as the clock ticked down, it came off of a missed shot by Malcolm Brogdon.

23. Look, Brogdon is a nice player, and hit a huge 3-pointer a couple possessions prior, but Antetokounmpo needs to be the one with the ball in his hands. On that possession, arguably the most important of this season, he didn’t.

24. The most popular saying around the state of Wisconsin for the past 10 days has undeniably been “Bucks in six.” Sunday’s win ensures that there will be a Game 6 in Milwaukee on Thursday, but for the one-time prediction of Brandon Jennings to come true, the Bucks need to find a way to steal Game 5 on the road.

25. The Bucks and Celtics will play in Game 5 of this best-of-seven series on Tuesday night in Boston. The start time has not yet been announced by the NBA. Talk to you then.

Milwaukee Bucks announce Aaron Rodgers as part-owner

The Milwaukee Bucks have not lost a game since it was announced that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers purchased a stake in the team.

The team made an announcement during Friday night’s 116-92 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Rodgers was sitting court side with girlfriend Danica Patrick and Bucks owner Wed Enseld.

Rodgers, a southern California native, has spent the past 13 years with the Packers, leading the team to a Super Bowl victory in 2010.

“I’ve lived here for 13 years, I love this state, I love this region…to show my love and support for the rest of the region and our team in Milwaukee, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Rodgers told Fox Sports Wisconsin’s Telly Hughes during a television interview during Game 3.

Game 4 of the first round between the Bucks and the Celtics is set for Sunday at noon CT, no word on whether or not Rodgers will be in attendance.

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.

Last shots: Celtics 120, Bucks 106

Nineteen last shots for the 19 minutes played by Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon in Milwaukee’s 120-106 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs.

1. This wasn’t how things were supposed to go this year for the Milwaukee Bucks, but it’s shaping up to be an all too familiar ending.

2. Disappointment.

3. The Bucks wanted a first round matchup with the Boston Celtics. So too did the Miami Heat and Washington Wizards. The three teams that finished at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture were hoping to matchup with the injury-riddled Celtics because it would give the best chance to advance to the next round of the playoffs, even as the No. 7 seed.

4. Those three teams, the Bucks included, were supposed to have the edge over the Celtics. They were supposed to be able to out-talent Boston while Kyrie Irving, Gordon Heyward, and Marcus Smart were all shelved due to injury.

5. On paper, Milwaukee has a talent advantage. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best player in the series, and has played as such through the first two games. Khris Middleton has played as well as expected, if not better. They haven’t been the problem.

6. Jabari Parker has been largely unplayable in the first two games of this series. That’s a big issue. On Tuesday night he finished without scoring in 10 minutes and only took two shots. The past two games certainly will not be on the highlight tape Parker wishes for teams to see as he hits restricted free agency this summer.

7. Eric Bledsoe had another rough game. After playing poorly to the tune of nine points on 4-of-12 shooting on Sunday afternoon, he followed it up with 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting Tuesday. In both games he’s been thoroughly outplayed by Celtics backup point guard Terry Rozier. The case can be made that Bledsoe was outplayed by Boston’s Shane Larkin on Tuesday night as well.

8. Larkin, who is on his fourth team in five years and spent the 2016-17 season overseas, averaged less than 15 minutes per game in 54 games this year. He and Rozier on contracts for less than $4 million this year combined, while Bledsoe made $15 million.

9. To compound things after the game, when Bledsoe was asked by a reporter if he was taking the success of Rozier personally. A very fair question considering Rozier’s success and Bledsoe’s struggles.

10. “Who?” Bledsoe questioned the reporter. The reporter restated Rozier’s name.

11. “I don’t know who the f*** that is,” Bledsoe responded.

12. That’s not a great look to not respect the 23-year-old that has been the much better player the past two games. It’s even worse when the fact that Bledsoe was unable to stay within 10 feet of Rozier in the final seconds of regulation in Game 1, watching from a distance as Rozier nailed a wide-open 3-pointer to put the Celtics up by three. Bledsoe was lucky that Middleton’s game-saving shot saved him some embarrassment.

13. Bledsoe’s poor play highlights a saying that’s rampant at times across basketball. Never trust the Bucks.

14. Many picked Milwaukee to win the series due to the Celtics injury issues and the talent advantage the Bucks hold. Everyone that did trusted the Bucks, which looks like a giant mistake two games in.

15. Obviously, the series isn’t over, and the Bucks will have an opportunity to return serve on their homecourt and send things back to Boston. Role players, which the Celtics are mostly comprised of at this point, typically play better at home than on the road.

16. Making this a long series isn’t something that’s out of the realm of possibility. But after the past few nights, it’s difficult to be confident in Milwaukee’s ability to do so. In the long history of the Celtics they have never lost a series in which they held a 2-0 lead. What about the performance of the Bucks in Game 2 should give any confidence that this will be the first time?

17. It’s hard to find an answer to that question. Antetokounmpo has been the best player in the series, sure, and Middleton’s play above his regular season level has been encouraging. But the Bucks can’t win without one of Parker or Bledsoe stepping up, and after the first two games it’s hard to have confidence in that happening.

18. Then again, role players tend to play better at home.

19. The Bucks take on the Celtics in Game 3 on Friday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Tip-off is at 8:30 p.m. CT. Talk to you then.

Last shots: Celtics 113, Bucks 107 (OT)

Eighteen last shots for the 18 minutes played by Bucks guard Jason Terry in Milwaukee’s 113-107 overtime loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the first round.

1. This is a loss that stings right now for the Bucks, as every playoff loss will. It was a game they led at halftime, and during parts of overtime. Playoff wins are tough to earn and heading into Game 2 assured of no worse than a split in Boston would have been big for the psyche of this team.

2. In the fourth quarter the Bucks locked down on the defensive end, only to see the Celtics bail themselves out with offensive rebounds or a make on an incredibly difficult shot by Marcus Morris or Terry Rozier.

3. It’s tough to swallow, but it happens.

4. The Bucks have more talent than this version of the Boston Celtics. That was evident on Sunday afternoon. Also evident was the fact that the Celtics play smarter and more together than the Bucks, and that’s a battle that’s not close.

5. Boston, purely from a talent standpoint, isn’t at the same level as the Bucks are. With star guards Kyrie Irving and Gordon Heyward unavailable due to injury the Celtics don’t have a player close to the level of Antetokounmpo. Al Horford is a terrific basketball player, and no discredit to him, but he’s not at the level of Antetokounmpo.

6. On the flip-side, Milwaukee, purely from a schematic standpoint, isn’t at the same level as the Celtics, and that’s a problem for them.

7. Inside the game itself, the Bucks outplayed the Celtics down the stretch. The defense was stifling, big shots were made by a cast of players, and even mistakes were overcome.

8. In the fourth quarter the Bucks outscored Boston 33-29 to tie things up, and the Celtics had to work for every point they earned. The Celtics were able to secure four offensive rebounds, turning them into eight second chance points.

9. Aside from those hustle stats, the Celtics nailed tough shots near the end of the shot-clock. Sometimes, there’s nothing more that can be done except for tipping your cap and moving on. There were a few of those instances down the stretch.

10. Rozier and Morris both came up huge, and they were big reasons as to why the Celtics won Game 1. That pair combined for 41 points. On the bright side for Milwaukee that’s something that isn’t likely sustainable for the Celtics. Rozier hit plenty of big shots down the stretch for the Celtics, including a 3-pointer to give Boston the lead with 0.5 seconds remaining in regulation.

11. For the Bucks, Middleton was huge. He finished with 31 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and a huge game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer in regulation to send the game to overtime. Middleton barely beat the clock, but his shot was pure as could be.

12. Middleton’s shot came 10 seconds after Brogdon knocked down a 3-pointer to tie the game at 96. On the following possession Rozier was being guarded by Bledsoe, shook free of him, and knocked down a wide-open 3-pointer to give the Celtics a 99-96 lead. After that, Middleton hit his shot to send things to overtime.

13. As for Antetokounmpo, he was almost everything the Bucks needed to go on the road and steal Game 1. He finished with 35 points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists before fouling out in overtime.

14. Fouling out was the issue, once Antetokounmpo was called for his fifth foul his demeanor changed. The constant attack on the rim ceased, as it seemed he was worried about a premature exit from the game by virtue of an offensive foul. It was a legitimate worry of his, as his fourth foul of the game was a charge with 1:33 left in regulation.

15. While Middleton and Antetokounmpo were mostly good, combining for 66 points, Bledsoe largely was not. The veteran with playoff experience seemed as if the stage was too big for him. He finished with nine points on 4-for-12 shooting, had five turnovers, and fouled out in overtime as well.

16. Bledsoe, simply put, needs to be better than he was on Sunday for the Bucks to win the series. If Rozier, Shane Larkin, and other members of the Celtics backcourt are outplaying him – by a wide margin – things are going to turn out poorly for the Bucks.

17. It’s easy to look at this loss as a bad sign. Digging out of a 0-1 hole isn’t the easiest task, but it’s not the most difficult, either. Boston was supposed to win on its home floor. If the Bucks return to Milwaukee with one victory in their pocket – regardless of how it’s earned – things will be looking up for them.

18. Game 2 is on Tuesday night in Boston at the TD Garden. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. CT.

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.