Basically, in a week we will get another update on just how far away Anunoby is, and by that point we will be four games into the Eastern Conference Finals. I’d be surprised if he returns this series.
Anunoby is a long, versatile wing who can defend multiple positions off the bench, can get a few buckets and has to be respected from three. By the end of the last series Nurse trusted Serge Ibaka off the Raptors bench — he was the team’s second best player in Game 7 and they don’t win without him — and that’s it. Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet got a few minutes just so the starters didn’t collapse in exhaustion, but they both struggled.
The NBA playoffs are deep into the second round, and with all that is on the line there can be a lot to unpack in these intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Go ahead and hit the “now what happens” panic button in Boston after ugly Game 4 loss. It was maybe the biggest question heading into this round two series: Had the Boston Celtics finally found themselves in their first-round sweep of the Pacers, or would the ugly habits of the regular season return when faced with a good Milwaukee Bucks team?
Monday night, with their season essentially on the line, Boston played inconsistent defense with missed rotation after missed rotation. The offense devolved into a series of isolation, hero ball plays. Then Kyrie Irving headed back to the locker room with 10 seconds left to play, leading to all kinds of easy-to-draw parallels to what could happen in July.
Turns out, bad habits die hard.
Behind another strong outing from Giannis Antetokounmpo with 39 points on 15-of-22 shooting, and him getting help from the Bucks bench, Milwaukee has taken a commanding 3-1 lead in this series, heading home for Game 4.
This loss felt like someone threw a gas can into the “where will Irving play next season” fire. Boston fans can reach for the panic button now because a second-round exit is not helping Kyrie Irving want to stay.
The Celtics season isn’t over yet, but Knicks fans are already on Zillow hunting out places for Irving to live if he comes to Manhattan. That speculation is only going to grow, and his decision could impact Kevin Durant‘s decision, the Anthony Davis trade and more.
The decisive stretch of Game 4 Monday came in the final 6:20 of the third quarter, when Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton went to the Milwaukee bench with four fouls apiece, plus Boston was in the bonus. This is when the Celtics should have stomped on the gas pedal, run the Bucks off the court, and taken control of the game. Instead, the Bucks went on a 19-9 run, with George Hill leading the way (he had 9 of his 15 points in that stretch). When the quarter ended, the Bucks were in control.
That leads to the other big question heading into this series: Where the Bucks a regular-season phenomenon? They had the best record in the NBA, but would their style of play hold up when the game slowed down and defenses focused in to take away strengths during the postseason.
Turns out the Bucks are just fine in the playoffs.
Both of these teams are talented, but right now only one is playing like a team, only one has its star setting up teammates and getting them involved when the defense focuses on him. Milwaukee is getting big games from not only its stars but also Hill is getting key buckets, Pat Connaughton is playing quality minutes and throwing down big dunks, and Eric Bledsoe is a pest.
The Bucks are for real and about to head into the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Celtics are about to head into the summer where, whatever they look like on the other end of it, they will not be the same.
2) Now we have the series we expected, Houston beats Golden State to even series 2-2. For the past couple of seasons, Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr has used his “Hamptons’ five” lineup — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green — almost as a “break glass in case of emergency” lineup. He’d bring it in when the game was on the line and no team had an answer for it.
Until Houston this series. In a sign of how much respect he had for the Rockets, Kerr opened the series starting the Hamptons’ Five, leaning on them for heavy minutes. In Game 4 they played just shy of 22 minutes — and were -11. For the series, this lineup is just +5, it is not dominating or intimidating the Rockets.
Mike D’Antoni has gone small to counter that lineup at the end of games, leaning on a lineup of Harden, Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers, and P.J. Tucker at center. All 6’6″ of him.. D’Antoni tried to call it the “South Beach” five, which doesn’t at all fit them. But the lineup is a thing in this series.
James Harden is dominating. The beard shot 7-of-11 in the paint and 6-of-17 from three on his way to 38 points.
Houston won 112-108 and after an ugly start in the first two games has bounced back and turned this into the intense, emotional, knock-down drag-out series we expected. It is 2-2 after both teams held home court, with Game 5 Wednesday back in Golden State.
The Rockets are making Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson work hard on defense, and it seems to impact their offense — the Warriors were 8-of-33 from three in Game 4. That is why they lost. It was summed up in this final play, when Golden State had a chance to tie it.
Kevin Durant has been otherworldly and had 34 in this game, he just needs some help. In the Steve Kerr era, this Warriors team has always responded with a big defensive effort when their backs are against the wall. That’s where they are in Game 5, but can they really solve the Harden riddle? Because nobody else has this season.
3) Lakers apparently closing in on a deal to make Tyronn Lue their next head coach. With Monty Williams off the board and ensconced in Phoenix, Tyronn Lue became the clear and lone frontrunner to get the Lakers coaching job. The latest update is that the side are working toward a deal, one that brings Frank Vogel in as a lead assistant (which would be a good hire, Vogel is a strong defensive coach).
Once announced, it’s a highering that will get ripped in some quarters because it looks like LeBron James got his man. Which he did. LeBron trusts Lue. The perception is that Lue is LeBron’s patsy, but the reality is Lue is one of the few guys with a relationship that allows him to really challenge LeBron, to call him out. The Lakers will need that.
Lue is not the terrible coach some want to paint him as, but he’s also not an elite NBA coach. Lue got his team to defend and ran some creative stuff near the end of his run in Cleveland. Lue is not brilliant, he is somewhere near the middle of the bell curve of NBA coaches. Go ahead and say “that’s not good enough for the Lakers” but in reality who were they going to get that’s better?
Lue can do the job if he has enough talent on the roster. The question is can the Lakers land the talent they and Lue need? Rob Pelinka is going to have a wild summer.
Giannis Antetokounmpo dominates as Bucks take 2-1 lead over Celtics
The Bucks superstar tore through the Celtics offensively and smothered them defensively in Milwaukee’s 123-116 Game 3 win Friday. Antetokounmpo’s stat line – 32 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists, three blocks and two steals – is matched in a playoff game by only Ralph Sampson in the Basketball-Reference database, which has full data since 1984.
Antetokounmpo often left Boston helplessly fouling him. He attempted 22 free throws, most by anyone in a game the last two postseasons.
After the Celtics stunned them with a 22-point Game 1 win in Milwaukee, the Bucks have seized momentum in this second-round series. Milwaukee won Game 2 by 21 and held a 15-point lead with three minutes left before ceding a late run tonight.
Teams with home-court advantage leading a best-of-seven series 2-1 have won it 88% of the time. Boston will try to reduce its disadvantage in Game 4 Monday, but even a win would only even the series with Milwaukee at home in Game 5 and, if necessary, Game 7.
As great as Antetokounmpo was tonight, the Bucks played Boston even while he sat thanks to huge contributions from George Hill (21 points on 9-of-12 shooting) and Pat Connaughton (14 points on 4-of-9 3-point shooting). Milwaukee broke open the game with a 12-0 run late in the third quarter that mostly occurred while Antetokounmpo rested.
Kyrie Irving (29 points on 8-of-22 shooting) got his points, but the Celtics’ offense too often stagnated late.
Still, this was a well-played game overall. Both teams moved well offensively, and keeping up, defensively. Both made 40% of their 3-pointers. Both had a deep pool of players contribute.
But only one had Antetokounmpo.
Bucks win first playoff series in 18 years, give Pistons longest playoff-game losing streak in NBA history
DETROIT – Between on-court postgame interviews, Giannis Antetokounmpo took a pit stop at the Bucks’ bench for a drink. He appeared to need a few moments to catch his breath, so Fox Sports Wisconsin reporter Katie George asked whether he was ready.
Antetokounmpo nodded as if he didn’t give it a second thought.
Of course he was ready.
Antetokounmpo was ready for everything tonight.
He scored 41 points – the most so far by anyone this postseason – and blocked four shots to lead the Bucks to a 127-104 Game 4 win over the Pistons. By sweeping Detroit, Milwaukee got its first playoff-series victory in 18 years.
“Where we were and where we are right now,” Antetokounmpo said, “it’s been an unbelievable journey.”
The Bucks advance to face the Celtics in the second round, an awaited rematch of last year’s first-round series. But Milwaukee cared far more about its opening round than most 60-win No. 1 seeds do.
Every NBA MVP besides Kevin Garnett, who didn’t advance until his ninth year, won a playoff series in his first five seasons. Antetokounmpo, who’s favored to win MVP this year, just won his first series in his sixth season.
The wait has been even longer for Milwaukee, which ends the fourth-longest playoff-series-victory drought of all-time at 17 seasons:
The Bucks left no doubt, beating Detroit by 35, 21, 16 and 23. This is just the second four-game sweep with every game won by at least 15 points in NBA history (Celtics over Rockets in 1980).
The sweep gives the Pistons sole possession of the longest playoff-game losing streak of all-time, 14 games:
Detroit’s streak includes 2009 and 2016 sweeps by the Cavaliers, meaning the Pistons have now gone 11 straight seasons without winning a playoff game. That’s one of the longest such droughts of all-time (record during drought listed):
Detroit just had no answer for Antetokounmpo, who drew 16 fouls Monday. The most impressive came as he rose to dunk on Andre Drummond, withstood contact and shifted to make a circus shot:
The play left his teammates in awe.
Eric Bledsoe: “I had to tell him, ‘Bro, you don’t understand how athletic you’ve been all season and finessing at the rim.’ That one, it was just unbelievable. It was unbelievable, man.”
Pat Connaughton: “There are sometimes you’ve just got to shake your head at some of the things that he can do. … I think the nickname ‘Freak’ is for a reason.”
The Bucks will have a little time to lock back in.
Milwaukee-Boston will be the first series between teams coming off sweeps since Lakers-Suns in the 2010 Western Conference finals. It’ll be the first such second-round series since Pistons-Bulls in 2007.
As Antetokounmpo repeatedly said in the locker room after tonight’s game, “I can’t wait.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo aggravates ankle, leaves game vs. Clippers (VIDEO)
MILWAUKEE —Giannis Antetokounmpo wants to fight through a right ankle injury that has hampered him over the last two weeks.
But the Milwaukee Bucks forward may need some rest to get fully healthy before the playoffs start in mid-April. And his status was of prime concern after the Bucks’ 128-118 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night.
Giannis limped to the Bucks bench with an apparent lower leg injury after stepping on Garrett Temple's foot in the 4th quarter. He remained on the bench, but did not return to the game. pic.twitter.com/2XV7zfeVVw
Antetokounmpo scored 34 points and grabbed nine rebounds before aggravating his ankle injury in the fourth quarter as the Bucks snapped Los Angeles’ six-game winning streak. Milwaukee (57-19) reduced its magic number to two for clinching home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Antetokounmpo went to the floor and held his right ankle after dunking with 7:46 left in the game, and he immediately went to the bench and didn’t return. He missed two games last week with a sprain to the same ankle, initially suffered on March 17 vs. Philadelphia.
“I’m definitely working on it, trying to get it healthy, stronger,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’m trying to get my mobility back. It’s not going to be easy.
“Usually when you sprain your ankle, you stay out for two, three, four games. But I don’t like missing games. I’ve got to work through it while playing. I’ll be ready to play until coach (Mike Budenholzer) tells me not to play.”
The Bucks open a three-game trip in Atlanta on Sunday before finishing the season with three home games.
“I think we all are hoping he can push through and be healthy going forward,” Budenholzer said. “We’ll see how he’s feeling after tonight and either bring out the bubble wrap or keep playing.”
Khris Middleton had a season-high 39 points with eight rebounds and five assists as Milwaukee won its fourth straight. Eric Bledsoe added 15 points, seven rebounds and eight assists, and Sterling Brown finished with 15 points.
Middleton hit 16 of 24 shots from the field, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range.
“I’m feeling good,” Middleton said. “The Houston game was just a dud. I had a lot of great shots and air-balled most of them, I felt like (on Tuesday in the Bucks’ victory). Tonight, I came out with the same mentality, just being aggressive and pick my spots. I was just trying to find a rhythm.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers was impressed with Antetokounmpo’s play and joked that the Bucks star and Houston’s James Harden should share the MVP award so “everybody in the world is happy.”
“The thing I like about Giannis the most is his temperament,” Rivers said. “He is not messing around. He is not there to put on a show. Every game is a competition for him. I love that. For me, of all the things he does, that is the No. 1 thing that stands out with me.”
The Bucks led 67-46 at halftime as Antetokounmpo had 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Middleton added 15 points and Brown 10 as Milwaukee shot 55.8 percent from the field (24 of 43).
“I think the second quarter stood out,” Budenholzer said after his team outscored the Clippers 39-21, in the period. “We were able to get quite a bit of separation and weather the storm in the second half.”
Los Angeles went on an 8-1 run to open the second half, cutting its deficit to 14 and forcing Budenholzer to call a timeout.
The Bucks led 79-69 before going on a 9-2 run capped by a 3-pointer by Pat Connaughton, putting them ahead 88-71 with 2:49 left in the third quarter.
Middleton completed a four-point play late in the quarter and had 13 points in the period as the Bucks took a 100-77 lead entering the fourth.