The equation has become rather simple for Milwaukee after five games in this first round series with Boston. Win or go home. A disappointing – and somewhat controversial – five point loss in Game 5 has now placed Milwaukee in the perilous position of facing an elimination game. The series remains on home court, neither side has been able to snare victory on the road, and for the Bucks to force a seventh game on Saturday, that trend will need to continue.
Milwaukee went cold offensively Tuesday night at the TD Garden to make just 36 percent of their field goal attempts. The numbers were even bleaker from beyond the arc where they were only able to connect on 9 of their 33 attempts. Despite the struggles, with under two minutes left they found themselves within striking distance. The earlier mentioned controversy arrived courtesy of a horribly missed shot clock violation on Al Horford. Horford’s feet were both flat on the floor when the 24 second shot expired, yet he was allowed to get the shot up and the Celtics recovered the rebound. It allowed a further 24 seconds to run off the clock and all but sealed the Bucks fate.
Marcus Smart made a successful return for the Celtics, finishing with nine points, five rebounds, four assists and three blocks in 26 minutes on court. He was his usual energetic self on both sides of the floor and came up with numerous influential plays including finding Horford with an assist from his back with under 30 seconds left. Smart was the injection of energy Boston needed, and will continue to need on the road in Milwaukee tonight.
A big reason for the Bucks wins in Games 3 and 4 was the contributions of guys other then Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. Unfortunately the help didn’t arrive in Game 4, as Thon Maker, Matthew Dellavedova, Malcolm Brogdon and Tony Snell could only muster four points between them. Snell was particularly frigid on the night, clanging his five three-point attempts off the rim in just 12 minutes. Without doubt those four players will need to have a greater impact tonight if the Bucks are to warm up offensively.
On the injury front, John Henson missed his third straight game in Game 5, still suffering from back soreness that has plagued him since the second game in the series. With Tyler Zeller really struggling to have any influence at all on the series, the Bucks will be hoping Henson is available to return tonight in some capacity, though as of now, he is listed as doubtful.
In what looms as potentially the last NBA game in the Bradley Center, the Milwaukee faithful will be out in full force to support their team. The stakes can’t possibly get any higher. Either win and fight another day, or lose and start your vacation. It’s going to be a big night in the cream city.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Focus on Giannis: Giannis attempted just ten shots in Game 5. Let that soak in. TEN shots. It’s an incredible number for one of the leagues most dangerous players with the ball in hand to have that little amount of attempts in an absolutely crucial playoff game. Giannis spoke postgame about his aggressiveness, he’s aware of what he needs to do, but it can’t all fall on his shoulders. Head coach Joe Prunty needs to do a better job of getting him the ball. Prunty needs to adjust as the night goes on and be able to put Giannis in the positions he needs to succeed. The Bucks need a big night from Giannis to stay alive, that’s indisputable.
- The Bledsoe defense: In a rather cringeworthy passage of play that I’m sure most people have seen by now. Eric Bledsoe’s lack of effort on defense was on display for all to see on Tuesday. Mid way through the second quarter with the Bucks down 8 and looking extremely fragile, Bledsoe left the red hot Jaylen Brown (44 percent from deep in the playoffs) with all kinds of space on the perimeter. When Brown caught the ball, Bledsoe made zero attempt to even take a step towards him, he didn’t move an inch. Brown knocked down the shot and Bledsoe was benched for Dellavedova. Bledsoe is an extremely good defender when locked in. Unfortunately it hasn’t been the case nearly enough in these playoffs and he’s running out of time to rectify a poor series overall.
- First quarter influence: After five games in this first round matchup, the equation appears simple. Win the first quarter, win the game. The Celtics are +31 in their three victories in the first quarter, whilst the Bucks are +22 in their two wins. Boston had major troubles early in Games 3 and 4, only mustering 29 total points in the first quarter as the Bucks defense ratcheted up. It provided the Bucks with the launchpad they needed to surge to victory and i’m certain they are aware that another fast start tonight is vital. Fall behind and the questions will begin to surface.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus