Ever heard the term, “work smarter, not harder?” Well, the Milwaukee Bucks haven’t, as they love to make simple things complicated.
Despite winning a ’90s-style, must-win game that was a mixture of good defense and horrible shot-making, the Bucks’ 86-83 win over the Nets means that Milwaukee was able to escape a 3-0 series hole, as it currently stands at 2-1. However, that loud sigh of relief you heard in Milwaukee is drenched in anxiety, as Thursday’s night game was a dead giveaway for why this will most likely be Mike Budenholzer’s last season coaching in Milwaukee.
With the Nets opening the game shooting 0-of-8 from the field – and 5-of-25 in the first quarter – the Bucks jumped out to a 30-11 lead after the opening period, in which Giannis and Khris Middleton scored every point in the quarter due to them running pick-and-roll, with Giannis as the screener.
It was working. Things were going well. And then Budenholzer went away from the offensive scheme that gave Milwaukee a 21-point lead. By the half, the Bucks were only up 45-42, as they were able to eventually survive and hang on in the end.
If you missed the game and just looked at the boxscore, it would appear that the Bucks’ stars carried them – which they did. Middleton finished with 35 points and 15 rebounds, while Giannis added 33 points of his own and 14 boards.
“We’ve been doing this for eight years and we know what type of game this is and we both came out ready,” said Giannis. “We were able to compete and we were able to get our teammates involved, get in our spots and help the team get a win. Hopefully we can do it in Game 4 also.”
But if you look a little closer, you’ll see that in a home game Milwaukee had to win, the two-time MVP was only 4-for-9 from the free-throw line and 1-for-8 from three. Why he kept shooting threes that the Nets were baiting him to take is a question that will never be answered, as he’s 4-for-32 from deep in the playoffs.
“As long as everybody’s on the same page and as long as everybody’s fighting for the same thing, fighting for the same thing every single day, which is to be a champion, I don’t see why not to be in Milwaukee for the next 15 years,” is what Giannis said after the Bucks got embarrassed in The Bubble when they were bounced 4-1 by the Miami Heat in the second round. Rumors about Giannis’ free agency had been swirling for years, and after a dismal performance, many thought that if he was ever going to leave that this would be the moment it happened. Three months later, Giannis signed a five-year extension worth $228 million. He was staying put with a franchise that no one should ever believe in.
By Sunday evening, we will know if this once highly-anticipated series between the Nets and Bucks will have lived up to the hype, or be all but finished if Brooklyn heads home with a 3-1 lead or if Milwaukee will be energized after tying the series at 2-2. The playoffs tend to get a little crazy as series can shift in a matter of days. Just a few days ago, the Nets looked like they were headed for a sweep, and now Milwaukee’s condition has improved from critical to stable.
In the first quarter of Game 3, Milwaukee discovered something through their pick-and-roll with their two All-Stars that could make this series a long one. It’s on Giannis to make sure that “everybody’s on the same page,” if he doesn’t want to be on his fifth head coach in eight seasons. But, that would require this team to do something that they’ve never shown they can do in the playoffs. Which is to work smarter, not harder.