The Bucks, who ranked 16th in the league in scoring defense at 106.8 points allowed per game, have been shooting well throughout this series but finally played defense to complement that offense Friday night in a 116-92 waxing of the Celtics that cut their series deficit to 2-1.
Khris Middleton scored 23 points and Giannis Antetokounmpo added 19, but seven-footer Thon Maker was the surprising difference maker on both ends of the court. Maker, who averaged 4.8 points during the season and had played one minute in Milwaukee’s two losses at Boston to start this series, had playoff career highs of 14 points, five rebounds and five blocks in 24 minutes and also hit three of four from 3-point range.
Maker’s defense keyed an inspired effort in which the Bucks tied a postseason franchise record with 13 blocks. They held the Celtics to 40 percent shooting and scored 20 points off 15 turnovers in one of their most complete performances of their entire 2017/18 season.
Al Horford scored 16 points and ex-Buck Greg Monroe chipped in 15 and 12 rebounds off the bench for Boston, who have allowed Milwaukee to shoot 54.7 percent and average 109.7 points through the first three games. Afer scoring 48 points off 35 Bucks turnovers in their two home wins, the Celtics had just nine points off nine turnovers.
Three keys to the game
Maker makes most of more minutes - With starting center John Henson sidelined with a bad back, Maker would see increased minutes by default, but no one expected such a performance considering he totaled 35 points and 19 rebounds while averaging almost 20 minutes in Milwaukee's first-round series loss to Toronto last year. The blocks, though, were not an outlier considering he had 11 rejections in those six games.
"The playoffs just really get me hyped," Maker told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "The crowd, even if it’s an away crowd, just to hear that noise you just get motivated and you just feel like you’re going out there to leave everything on the floor. I mean, it’s the end of the season. There’s teams sitting at home watching us and I do not want to be those guys, so I got to find a way to get out there and give it everything I got. I have nothing to lose.”
Celts suffer rare road woes - The Celtics posted the third-best road record in the NBA this season at 28-13, but the snowball effect of missing 16 straight shots spanning the first and second quarters while falling behind 20 points in the first 13:08 of the contest was too much to overcome.
“We have a young team and we didn’t know what to expect,” forward Marcus Morris told Boston.com. “First road game in the playoffs and it got loud. We made a couple of mistakes and they made shots.”
Jabari joins in the fun - Bucks forward Jabari Parker was the second overall pick in the 2014 draft, but a pair of ACL injuries limited him to 183 of a potential 328 games over his first four seasons. With the teams unable to agree on a contract extension earlier in the season, Parker is an impending free agent and is trying to use his postseason debut as an audition for potential suitors.
He expressed his frustration in playing just 24 minutes in the first two games of the series after coming off a strong close to the season in which he averaged 19.5 points and 8.2 rebounds in the final six regular-season games. Parker backed up his bid for more playing time with strong play off the bench Friday, totaling 17 points and five rebounds in 30 minutes.
Matchup to watch
PG Terry Rozier vs Gs Eric Bledsoe and Matthew Dellavedova - While the back and forth between point guards Terry Rozier and Eric Bledsoe through the media has been one of the more entertaining sidebars of this series, backup guard Matthew Dellavedova could be the reason the Bucks head back to Boston with the series tied and momentum on their side.
Dellavedova is the guy everyone hates to play against and the guy you love playing with. He is defensively savvy and playoff savvy, knows what to get away with and walks right up to that line nearly every play. He played just 16 minutes in Friday's victory, but he was a vital cog by totaling five points and four assists while making like miserable for Rozier.
The Celtics point guard had gotten the better of Bledsoe in the first two games, totaling 46 points and 11 assists while hitting seven of 14 from 3-point range without committing a turnover over 78-plus minutes. Rozier finished Game 3 with nine points and nine assists but also had five turnovers and took just seven shots.
Bledsoe, who is starting in the playoffs for the first time in his career, has steadily found his footing more with each game, and his 17-point, four-assist effort Friday was his best of the series. If the Bucks get more efforts like this from these two guards, they may live up to being the chic pick of pulling off a first-round upset.
Boston Celtics projected starting lineup
PG - Terry Rozier | SG - Jaylen Brown | C - Aron Baynes | SF - Jayson Tatum | PF - Al Horford
Milwaukee Bucks projected starting lineup
PG - Eric Bledsoe | SG - Malcolm Brogdon | C - Tyler Zeller | SF - Khris Middleton | PF - Giannis Antetokounmpo
Second-year Celtics swingman Jaylen Brown finally cooled off and was held to 11 points in Game 3, but he is still averaging 20.3 points while shooting 50.0 percent in this series. Brown has averaged 21.3 points in his last four games against the Bucks while shooting 52.3 percent and has totaled 17.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in the seven overall meetings this season.
Monroe could be a low-cost, high-value utility play for DFS purposes. He has averaged 13.0 points and 8.5 rebounds in six games against the Bucks this season and posted his second double-double in that span in Friday's loss.
Antetokounmpo was not as much held under 20 points for the first time this season by the Celtics as much as he was not needed during the fourth quarter. The All-Star forward is still one of the most favorable matchups for DFS players as he has averaged 31.1 points, 10.0 rebounds and 5.9 assists in seven games versus Boston this season while shooting 57.1 percent. The 13 steals and six blocks don't hurt either.
Middleton, however, now has four straight 20-point games against Boston, shooting 13 for 24 from 3-point range and a torrid 60.9 percent overall in that stretch while averaging 24.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.8 assists.
The Bucks are listed as 4.5-point favorites for this game, with the line moving one-half point in Boston's favor since its open, and while the home team has covered in four of the last five matchups between the sides, the Celtics have covered in five of the last six meetings between the teams and seven times in their last nine contests in Milwaukee.
Boston have also covered in six of their last seven first-round playoff games and are 20-8 in their last 28 road games against opponents with a home winning percentage above .600. The Celtics are 4-1 against the number in their last five versus Central Division teams and 5-1-1 in their last seven following a double-digit loss.
Friday's win marked the first time Milwaukee covered in six first-round playoff games and the first time in eight at home versus teams with a winning road record. The Bucks, though, are 2-6 against the spread in their last eight versus Atlantic Division teams, 4-12 in their last 16 at home and 5-13 in their last 18 against conference rivals.
The over/under has been cut 2.5 points to 204 since its open, and the over has been trending in the matchup as well as for both individual teams. The over has hit four times in the last five games at the Bradley Center and is 12-3-1 in the last 16 games between the teams overall.
The over is 7-1 in Milwaukee's last eight games, 10-1 in their last 11 versus the Atlantic Division and 13-3 in their last 16 against conference opponents. It has also hit in Boston's last seven games overall, their last seven against Eastern Conference teams and the last five versus Central Division opponents.
While not to be confused with Nostradamus, Bucks interim coach Joe Prunty offered an interesting insight before Milwaukee's Game 3 win in telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "What I believe in is during the course of every series, there is a player or players who step up that people haven't talked about. And it happens all the time. And you can go all the way back through the history of the NBA, they may not be the best player on the floor in the series, but they come in and somehow have a major impact on it."
Prunty had three such players fill that role in Game 3 with Maker, Parker, and Dellavedova. The question is whether any or all of them can repeat that effort in Game 4. Maker represents the full potential upside of who the Bucks can be defensively.
A lithe and active seven-footer, Maker is quick enough defensively to deliver in Prunty's defensive schemes in which the Bucks constantly switch on screens and utilize their length to contest shots all over the half court.
That said, it has been proven the Bucks are a better team over the long haul on that side of the court when Henson plays because they are a more fundamentally sound team not prone to breakdowns. After having 13 shots thrown back in their faces, it is hard to believe the Celtics won't be a little skittish about entering the paint on the bounce.
The other part of Prunty's quote holds for Boston in the sense that what you see with the Celtics is what you get. Injuries have robbed them of depth that any player coach Brad Stevens throws on the court has been scouted to the nth degree by the Bucks. There are no surprises, it is simply on the Celtics to execute.
To paraphrase a favorite player quote, "They are all they have."
The question is whether the Celtics had a clunker or something clicked for the Bucks. Home-court advantage is real in this case since Milwaukee are closing down the Bradley Center after this season and moving one block north into their new digs, so there is an electricity to these home games, even without announcing Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is now part of the ownership group to whip the fan base into a further frenzy.
To a man, the Celtics admitted they didn't respond to being jumped by the Bucks, and after playing a near-perfect game, Milwaukee are ready to get after it. Look for the Bucks to knot this series and ensure there will be at least one more game at the Bradley Center after posting a 110-101 victory in Game 4.
The game will be televised nationally on ABC and nationally in Canada on TSN1/3. Tip-off time is 1 pm EDT.
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