Statement games have become the norm in the 2022 NBA Playoffs. The first round saw great performances from the Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, and the Milwaukee Bucks, with the latter two opening the Eastern Conference semifinals with a matchup billed as one of epic proportions.
After Game 1, it’s safe to say that the Bucks were not fazed with how the Celtics easily eliminated the Brooklyn Nets in a four-game sweep. Milwaukee struggled for points early in the first quarter, but gathered steam as the game progressed thanks to their defensive pressure on Boston’s stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
While they certainly tried, the Celtics could not contain Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak finished with his second postseason triple-double and made mincemeat out of the Boston defense.
It could be easy to forget that this win came as the Bucks continue to miss the services of Khris Middleton, whose Grade 2 MCL sprain will force him to miss this series. That they have Antetokounmpo will certainly cover for some areas where Middleton will be missed, but on the whole, it will take a team effort to replace the 2020 Tokyo Olympic gold medalist’s contributions on both ends of the floor.
Jrue Holiday led all scorers with a game-high 25 points and while his defense has always been there, the team will certainly benefit more from his offense. Antetokounmpo can always find space whether through his sheer will or his growing game, but when the shots of Holiday, Grayson Allen, and Pat Connaughton are falling, it’ll be a long night for the defense.
For his part, Antetokounmpo continues to cement his case as the best player in the world right now as he has followed up his Finals MVP run with another stellar postseason so far. He has been double-teamed for pretty much his whole playoff career and while the same can be said for the likes of Tatum and Kevin Durant, Antetokounmpo works his way through the pressure differently.
The obvious answer here is, of course, the Greek Freak’s ability to create openings during instances when they never really existed in the first place. Adding a jump shot to his maturing game was a devastating development for the rest of the NBA, but Antetokounmpo took the leap this season with how he put together his offensive repertoire depending on what the defense gave him.
However, for all his all-world abilities and individual brilliance, it’s his playmaking that makes him unguardable. Antetokounmpo and the Bucks have utilized the dunker’s spot for him to find cutters, but his efforts to create can also lead to breakdowns in other areas.
It’s these little things that can make defenses overthink and bit by bit, the consequences of Milwaukee’s efforts in breaking down defenses can circle back to Antetokounmpo, who then has more areas to operate in.
Looking at the bigger picture, the similarities between the Bucks and the Nets end when considering both squads are down a marquee player when facing the Celtics. Milwaukee’s players have played with each other for quite some time as compared to the boys in Brooklyn, considering the latter made some major deadline moves and had a part-time player in Kyrie Irving.
Moreover, the Bucks can field an imposing lineup that can provide rim protection and remain steady even when they have to switch. This comes partly thanks to their depth and understanding of the personnel on the other end. Moreover, this type of luxury and dedication to pregame preparation allows Milwaukee to deploy double teams with safety valves ready to close any gaps that arise.
In not-so-kind terms, the Milwaukee Bucks came into the TD Garden and punched the Boston Celtics in the mouth. It would be asinine to think this series is over after one game, but this is largely predicated on how the Celtics will respond in Game 2.
How Boston responds will in itself be a statement, but make no mistake; the Bucks weren’t playing around when they made theirs in the opening game.