The Milwaukee Bucks juggernaut has awoken as they turned in their best game of the series, suffocating the Orlando Magic in Game 3.
Many Bothan spies may have died to get us this information. But the Milwaukee Bucks are very very good.
That is probably the end of the analysis of things. Especially after they routed the Orlando Magic 121-107 in Game 3 of their series. The Bucks took as much as a 34-point lead in the third quarter before coasting to the end.
Give credit to the Magic for finding some rhythm to cut the deficit to as low as 12 with about six minutes to play in the fourth quarter — a very doable comeback. But much of that happened after the Bucks had eased off the gas pedal defensively.
And then Giannis Antetokounmpo put the hammer down with a big dunk that effectively quieted any chance at a miracle comeback.
Antetokounmpo was certainly the big story in Game 3 with his 35 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and 12-for-14 shooting. Antetokounmpo put up gaudy stat lines in the first two games, but none of them were as good as this game.
He made a living in the paint, making 10 of his 10 shots in the restricted area. The Magic could do nothing to slow him down. And that only opened up everything else for the Bucks to dominate the game.
That made the Bucks look like the nearly 70-win juggernaut they were on their way to being in the regular season. As Eric Nehm of The Athletic wrote, it was the first time the Bucks truly looked like themselves.
That force Antetokounmpo played with, something even Bucks fans are recognizing is a bit different from his previous playoff outings, has started to bleed into the other players on the team. That is what made the Game 3 win so different for the Bucks. Everything worked.
Most importantly for Milwaukee, Khris Middleton got himself going.
After struggling through the first two games of the series, Middleton broke out for 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Once he hit his first off-the-dribble mid-range jumper, that is probably the moment the Magic knew they were in trouble. Especially with the turnovers they were committing, where Middleton can be deadly as a trailer and floor spacer in transition.
“After a horrendous Game 2 performance that saw him score just two points, it was awesome having Khris Middleton,” Gabe Holtz of Brew Hoop wrote. “His solid play alongside Giannis helped put Milwaukee in the driver’s seat early on and not look back. This is the type of performance that the Bucks need in order to cap off their championship run. We’ve all seen how drastic the performance can be when K-Midd doesn’t show up. His +30 RPM was the highest on the Bucks, and it’s easy to understand why. When he gels, his teammates do as well and it makes things that much tougher for their opponent.”
Adding in a strong game from several players off the bench and it was easy to see why the Bucks cut through the Magic’s defense with ease. Orlando had no answer to stop all these weapons attacking at full throttle.
The story remains the Bucks’ defense, however.
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Orlando spoke extensively about its poor response to Milwaukee’s defensive pressure in both Games 2 and 3. The Magic have not been able to respond adequately to the pressure they are facing.
The Bucks already give up precious few points in the paint (26 points in the paint for a 50-26 advantage in Game 3). But when they are able to completely shut off the paint as they did in Game 3, they give little outlet to even find 3-point shooters.
“With the Bucks’ defense on point positionally, it allowed more room for individual gambles and freedom for plays, with the likes of Giannis, Eric Bledsoe, and Wesley Matthews all starring,” Adam McGee of Behind the Buck Pass wrote. “If the Bucks can maintain this standard, the Magic won’t stand a chance. Even more so, it would make the Bucks incredibly tough to beat in the rounds to come.”
Trying to beat the Bucks’ defense is hard enough. But when they are able to pack the paint with impunity and make these gambles, it makes it harder.
Orlando struggled to find outlets when the team did get into the teeth of the defense. And the Magic’s poor shooting early on allowed the Bucks to swarm and double Nikola Vucevic. At this point, any time Vucevic takes a jumper, that is considered a win for the Bucks, even if he is hitting them consistently.
Vucevic is about the only consistent offensive weapon the Magic have at this point. The Bucks are playing him like it.
What is clear for Orlando heading into Game 4 is the team needs to withstand the pressure, play aggressively and play with smarts. The team needs to create more movement so the Bucks defense is working. And, most importantly, Orlando needs to make shots so Milwaukee cannot pack the paint as much.
Milwaukee is playing some very good basketball. The team has clearly gotten better as the series has gone on. That is what the Magic expected.
Orlando needs to respond in a big way in Game 4. Or else this fully operational battle station will destroy their season.