The Bucks Are Close to Unbeatable When Milwaukee's Shooters Connect From Deep

When Giannis Antetokounmpo's supporting cast makes threes, the Bucks are a whole different animal. Game 2 featured a blistering effort from Khris Middleton, especially.
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Milwaukee and Boston are now tied at one game apiece after the Bucks blew out the Celtics 123–102 in a Game 2 win Tuesday night. Basically everything that went wrong for Milwaukee in Game 1 went right the second time around, while Boston couldn’t recreate its success and found itself on the business end of a blowout. Here’s how the Bucks evened the series as the teams head to Boston for Game 3:

• It’s amazing how much making your shots makes a difference. Milwaukee’s supporting cast struggled from three in Game 1. Bucks starters not named Giannis Antetokounmpo combined to hit only five shots from beyond the arc Sunday. Tuesday night, the non-Giannis starters hit a whopping 14 threes, including a blistering 7-of-10 performance from Khris Middleton. Nikola Mirotic started in place of Sterling Brown in Game 2, and while he didn’t light up Boston from the outside, his insertion into the first five showed how committed Milwaukee was to spacing the floor. The hot shooting was important in two ways. The obvious one is that it resulted in a bunch of points, the really good kind that count more than shots from inside the arc. Milwaukee’s improved three-point stroke also stretched out Boston’s defense. Suddenly, Giannis had more room to work in the paint, and didn’t have to play one-on-five. The Celtics couldn’t pack the middle of the floor on pick-and-rolls, opening up options for both Antetokounmpo and his shooters. Overall, the Bucks jacked 47 threes Tuesday night and converted at a 42.6% rate. That kind of shooting can’t be expected every game, but that’s closer to what the team should expect as long as Boston is loading up on Giannis—and cheating off the perimeter.

• After a subpar Game 1, Middleton stepped up in a big way. He finished Game 2 with 28 points, and provided instant offense for Milwaukee. He makes the Bucks so much more dangerous when he makes the defense pay for focusing so much of its attention on Giannis. Speaking of The Greek Freak, Antetokounmpo also increased his scoring output from Sunday, collecting 29 points, 13 of which came at the free throw line. As Giannis continued to barrel his way into the paint, the referees seemed more inclined to blow their whistles compared to Game 1. Antetokounmpo attempted 18 free throws in only 31 minutes, and while he wasn’t spectacular from the field, his repeated trips to the charity stripe more than made up for the difference.

• The Celtics, meanwhile, looked like a mess offensively. The gifts of one-on-one scorers like Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward can every now and then be a curse, and that’s what transpired Tuesday. After that duo combined to shoot 17-of-29 in Game 1, they shot 5-of-23 as a duo in Game 2. Irving was the bigger culprit, making only four of his 18 field-goal attempts. Irving doesn’t consistently create easy looks for himself. More often than not, he hits tough shots. When they don’t fall, Boston can look creaky, and not enough people picked up the slack Tuesday. Jayson Tatum had his second straight stinker, scoring five points, which was somehow an improvement from Game 1. In the series, Tatum has nine points on 4-of-17 shooting, and he needs to improve significantly, because the Celtics can’t expect perfection from everyone else every night. After shooting 54% on Sunday, Boston shot 39.5% on Tuesday. The midrange area tells the story. The Celtics scored 30 points from there in Game 1, but only 12 in Game 2. When Irving, Tatum, and Hayward—the team’s three most offensively gifted players—all can’t find a rhythm, Boston struggles to create enough high efficiency looks to compensate.

• What happens in Game 3? It would seem both these teams are destined to meet in the middle. Regression should hit both. Irving and especially Tatum should resemble more of who they are in Game 2, which should mean more points for the Celtics. Milwaukee also probably can’t expect Middleton to keep shooting over 70% from three, but he’ll continue to be a factor in any success for the Bucks. Milwaukee’s defense did seem to ramp up its aggression in Game 2. A key for the Bucks will be to continue not letting the Celtics settle into the low-stress midrange looks they’ll accept for their best players. Although the first two games have been blowouts, the series heads East with each team having won once, and the total score separated by only a point. This fight should end up being closer than the opening rounds would indicate.