Last night’s game between the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets was one filled with surprises. With the series shifting to Milwaukee and the Bucks in a virtual must-win situation, the expectations were astronomical. A win by the Nets would have sealed the series as no team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit, and the likelihood of that happening to a powerhouse like Brooklyn just seemed to be next to zero.
For the Bucks, it was a chance to make it a series again and, more importantly, regain some of the confidence that allowed them to win the regular-season series against the Nets. As expected, the Bucks started out aggressive, jumping out to a big lead in the first. Brooklyn then stormed back late in the half to close the gap at 45-42 to set up what was going to be an epic second half.
To much surprise, both teams scored even less in the final half. But the biggest and most important surprise was the long-awaited extension of Giannis’ minutes, taking him up to 43 minutes total. Giannis played 42:59 minutes tonight, the most he's played in regulation since a playoff game on April 17th, 2018, against the Celtics. Budenholzer actually wasn't even the coach back then; it was Joe Prunty. Luckily his extended time on the court led to a win, but this game may have given us some clues to the puzzle that is managing The Greek Freak’s minutes.
Giannis had a great game on the box score, primarily on an explosive first half of action. Late in the game, however, Middleton and Holiday took control of the game while Giannis seemed to be rather fatigued. Him being the player he is, the effort was there on the defensive end, but on offense, Giannis had trouble taking care of the basketball, particularly when attacking the defense of Blake Griffin. Those turnovers came in big plays down the stretch, and had Brooklyn shot the ball a little better; we would be talking about the Bucks going fishing early for the third consecutive season.
Going into game 4, the Bucks have a chance to even the series and put some pressure on the visiting Nets. Many have said that Milwaukee is the best-remaining match-up for the Brooklyn powerhouse, but despite the series being at 2-1 the Nets still seem to be on another level compared to these Bucks. Now comes a very important coaching decision for Budenholzer as 43 minutes a night does not seem to be optimal for The Greek Freak.
Nevertheless, Game 4 is another chance for Milwaukee to keep their title hopes alive, and knowing Giannis, he is going to want to go down swinging. Given the fact Giannis struggles so much from the free-throw line, the solution may be to play him 43+ minutes but prepare Holiday and Middleton to run the offense in the 4th quarter and have Giannis on the court as the leader on defense and a screener/slasher on offense. Now, it is up to Budenholzer to be in his corner and help him land the knockout punch.
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