• Alder Almo

Five Thoughts from Game 2: Bucks vs Celtics Series

AP/Morry Gash

After being “punched in the mouth” in Game 1, the Milwaukee Bucks responded with their own haymaker, and punched the Boston Celtics to the gut in a 123-102 win in Game 2. The series is tied at one game apierce.

Bud’s Bluff

While all eyes are on Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kyrie Irving in this series, the coaching battle has quickly become the next best matchup to watch.

In Game 1, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens threw the gauntlet on Antetokounmpo, shackling the leading MVP candidate in the paint. The result was a disaster for the Bucks.

After the game, Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer with his poker face on said his club didn’t need to adjust. Instead, Milwaukee would need to play their usual game with more energy in Game 2.

His bluff caught the Celtics by surprise. Budenholzer made a few of big adjustments: inserting Nikola Mirotic in the starting lineup in an effort to boost their perimeter firepower and employing a switching defense. The second change paid dividends, as Kyrie Irving was held down to just nine points on a poor 4-18 shooting night, his worst showing this playoffs.

On offense, the Bucks stayed true to their core, but with more energy. The team shot the lights out, setting a new playoff franchise record 20-of-47 from deep.

“I think when we’re us that’s when we’re at our best,” Budenholzer said.

The Bucks were indeed absolutely at their best in Game 2. Their league-leading offense and defense both came to play.

Now it’s Steven’s turn to respond.

Giannis’ response

Slowed down in Game 1 and forced to play outside, Giannis Antetokounmpo finally showed up. He attacked the paint with plenty of vigor, passing out to his teammates whenever faced with the Celtics’ stone wall defense.

By halftime, Antetokounmpo had already matched the ten total free throw attempts he had in Game 1. He finished with 13-of-18 from the line, a big chunk of his 29-point output. He also found his teammates in traffic, adding four assists to go with ten rebounds in a dominant performance that Budenholzer later said as “that’s more of what we’re accustomed to seeing.”

Balanced attack

The Bucks showed their depth in Game 2. Khris Middleton led the supporting cast with a playoff career-high 28 points on 7-of-10 3-point shooting. The Celtics shouldn’t forget that Middleton torched them in last year’s playoff series with 24.7 points on 61 percent shooting from deep. Four other Bucks scored at least nine points.

Eric Bledsoe, meanwhile, finally atoned for his struggles in Game 1 and the 2018 playoffs with a bounce back 21-point, five assist performance. He was brilliant on both ends as he sliced through the Celtics’ defense with his daredevil drives. Bledsoe added three 3-pointers while also helping the Bucks track down Irving on defense.

Brook Lopez, George Hill and Nikola Mirotic also did their fair share to help the Bucks secure a win. They combined for 29 points, while Pat Connaughton was a monster off the boards with a team-best 11 rebounds.

Third Quarter Storm

In Game 1, it was the Celtics who whipped up a third quarter storm to pull away for good. The script was flipped in Game 2.

Antetokounmpo took over in the pivotal third quarter asserting his might with 15 of his 29 points that broke the game wide open for the Bucks.

The third quarter has become the series’ barometer after two games.

Milwaukee outscored Boston, 38-19, in the third quarter. In Game 1, the Celtics had a 36-21 advantage.

Will the trend continue in Game 3?

Series far from over

Appearing on the ESPN broadcast panel, Boston great Paul Pierce was quick to say that this ‘series is over’ after the Celtics obliterated the Bucks in Game 1.

Game 2 should make him flip flop.

Displaying great composure and unshaken confidence, the Bucks proved in Game 2 that they are a worthy contender.

With the way Boston and Milwaukee split the first two games of the series, it looks like we have to brace for a back-and-forth chess match in what could be a long series.

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