Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
After an ugly performance to start the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Milwaukee Bucks appear to be back on track following a 123-116 victory over the Boston Celtics in Friday’s Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead.
After setting a franchise playoff record with 20 made three-pointers in Game 2, the Bucks look like a team that led the NBA with 60 wins during the regular season. Head coach Mike Budenholzer’s system and adjustments have caused all sorts of problems for Boston.
Giannis Antetokounmpo set the pace for Milwaukee with 32 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. George Hill turned in his best game of the playoffs with 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting. Pat Connaughton had another strong showing off the bench with 14 points on 4-of-9 three-point shooting.
Kyrie Irving continues to struggle in the series. Boston’s All-Star finished with a team-high 29 points but made just eight of his 22 attempts. Jayson Tatum had a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds in defeat.
Bucks Need More Connaughton and Hill, Less Bledsoe to Beat Celtics
McCollum and the Blazers Snapped Postseason Losing Streak for “Jennifer”
Stars Invest in Plant-Based Food as Vegetarianism Sweeps NBA
The NBA Got Some Wild Techs This Season
Jarrett Allen Is One of the NBA’s Hottest Rim Protectors
Wade’s Jersey Swaps Created Epic Moments This Season
Westbrook Makes History While Honoring Nipsey Hussle
Devin Booker Makes History with Scoring Tear
29 Years Ago, Jordan Dropped Career-High 69 Points
Bosh Is Getting His Jersey Raised to the Rafters in Miami
Steph Returns to Houston for 1st Time Since His Moon Landing Troll
Lou Williams Is Coming for a Repeat of Sixth Man of the Year
Pat Beverley Has the Clippers Stealing the LA Shine
LeBron Keeps Shredding NBA Record Books
Young’s Hot Streak Is Heating Up the ROY Race with Luka
LeBron and 2 Chainz Form a Superteam to Release a New Album
Wade’s #OneLastDance Dominated February
Warriors Fans Go Wild After Unforgettable Moments with Steph
Eight Years Ago, the Nuggets Traded Melo to the Knicks
Two Years Ago, the Kings Shipped Boogie to the Pelicans
ASG Will Be Competitive Again If the NBA Raises the Stakes
Head coach Mike Budenholzer showed his ability to adjust quickly after Milwaukee’s Game 1 loss. He didn’t make wholesale changes, but the defense played much better in Game 2 because they started switching more regularly.
Since we know the Bucks coach is willing to make changes for the benefit of his team, the next one that should happen is Connaughton and Hill being featured even more than they already are.
Eric Bledsoe had a strong showing against Boston in Game 2 with 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Any optimism that the Bucks point guard figured things out versus the Celtics in the playoffs was undone in Game 3. He finished with nine points and four turnovers in 27 minutes.
ESPN.com’s Malika Andrews broke down what Bledsoe did following the 2018 playoff loss to the Celtics:
“In the days after the Bucks fell to the Celtics in Game 7 last season, Bledsoe spent a lot of time watching film. He didn’t watch film of Rozier splashing a clutch 3-pointer over him in Game 1, or film of Rozier scoring 23 points in Game 2, or the interview in which Rozier accidentally referred to Bledsoe as “Drew.” Those things, particularly Rozier’s 3, are seared into his memory.”
Despite being seared into his memory, it doesn’t appear to have helped Bledsoe up his game this time around.
Connaughton, on the other hand, is turning into a key piece for the Bucks in this series.
Jeff Goodman @GoodmanHoops
The local kid — Pat Connaughton – is keeping Milwaukee in this one. Has 3 trifectas and 11 points as Bucks trail Boston by 5 late in the first half.
Connaughton helped keep the Bucks close after they fell behind by 11 points midway through the second quarter.
Just as important as Connaughton’s offensive contributions in the past two games has been his defense.
“It’s great when we have a little pop off the bench,” Budenholzer told reporters about the former Notre Dame star after Game 2 against the Detroit Pistons. “I love the pop he gives us defensively.”
If you just look at plus-minus, Connaughton and Hill finished Game 3 a combined plus-14. Bledsoe had the worst mark of any Bucks player at minus-nine.
Hill has been incredible, shooting 16-of-26 through three games against Boston. His 29 minutes in Game 3 were his most since April 4 against the Philadelphia 76ers.
There may come a time when Bledsoe goes back to being an essential piece of Milwaukee’s rotation in the playoffs. It’s not right now, especially with Connaughton or Hill able to take his spot on the floor and improve the overall quality of play for the NBA playoffs’ top seed.
Kyrie Irving Isn’t the Leader the Celtics Need
Who is Kyrie Irving?
It may not be quite as mysterious as trying to figure out who the real Don Draper is, but the Celtics star is an enigma like few other high-profile athletes in all of sports.
Two years ago when Irving wanted out of Cleveland, ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst reported the decision was motivated in part by his desire to be the No. 1 guy that he couldn’t be sharing the floor with LeBron James.
Irving’s first season in Boston was full of promise, but it ended badly for him when two surgical procedures on his knee kept him out for the playoffs. The Celtics advanced all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals without their best player.
Getting Irving back this season was supposed to push Boston over the top in the East. Instead, the past six months have been one headache after another for the team.
In an article posted on ESPN.com prior to Game 3, Jackie MacMullan wrote Celtics players were “treading lightly” around Irving earlier this season due to his “mood swings.”
Terry Rozier did tell MacMullan Irving has had a more “positive outlook lately” and it has “has made a huge difference.”
Coming into Friday night, Irving told reporters the magnitude of this game was why Boston brought him on board:
NBA TV @NBATV
“This is what I signed up for. This is what Boston traded for me for.”
Kyrie is ready for another battle in Boston. 💪
Irving did lead the Celtics in scoring, but if this is the best he has to offer in a big game, something needs to change.
In the third quarter, Hill went to the hoop for an easy dunk by running around Irving, who immediately turned to look for help rather than try to make a play:
That defensive effort wasn’t lost on the viewing audience:
Keith Smith @KeithSmithNBA
That’s pathetic defense in a playoff game. Kyrie reaches and no one else even tries to get in Hill’s way.
At his best, Irving is a cornerstone player every franchise would love to build around. It was his three-point shot that put the Cavaliers ahead in the decisive seventh game against the Golden State Warriors during the 2016 NBA Finals.
Boston’s problems this season go well beyond Irving. Gordon Hayward (10 points in 33 minutes) clearly isn’t the same player he was before his leg injury. Jayson Tatum, who was minus-15 Friday, went from a budding superstar after last year’s playoffs to potentially being a decent No. 3 option on a playoff team.
But Irving has shown through his actions throughout this season, along with a mediocre postseason run, that his leadership qualities deserve to be called into question.
Irving can be an unstoppable force with his shooting touch. He’s not that player right now, making it impossible to figure out his identity as Boston searches for a quick fix to avoid falling in a 3-1 hole against the East’s top seed.
The Celtics will host the Bucks in Game 4 on Monday at 7 p.m. ET.