‘This couldn’t have gone much worse’


MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo has a ritual after losses.

He walks into the locker room, undresses, wraps a towel around his lower body, puts protective covers on his toes and plunks his feet into a red bucket that is filled to the brim with ice water. Actually, he ices after every game, but after losses, he does it for longer. After losses, he soaks in silence. He is thinking.

The Milwaukee Bucks‘ training staff never keeps him waiting. Midway through the fourth quarter, the bucket is full.

On Sunday, after the Bucks’ 112-90 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the East semifinals, Antetokounmpo sat in silence with his head disapprovingly shaking every few minutes. He glanced at sheet of paper with the box score on it and exhaled. He carefully folded the paper in half and set it in his locker, no doubt so he could pour over it again later. When he finally rose, he did so slowly, sliding his mammoth feet into his shower shoes.

“What was I thinking?” Antetokounmpo said, responding to a question about his mindset following the loss. “It doesn’t matter what I was thinking. … Obviously, it was one of the toughest tests we’ve ever had all season long.”

It’s impossible to get in between Antetokounmpo’s ears, but it’s reasonable to think he was replaying Al Horford and Aron Baynes collapsing in on him all game. He might’ve been thinking of his one-point first quarter. The box score he had tucked away told Antetokounmpo that the Celtics had outscored the Bucks by 24 points when he was on the court, tied for the worst plus-minus of his playoff career (Game 6 at Toronto in the 2017 first round).

As one Bucks front office member put it: “This couldn’t have gone much worse.”

In many ways, Sunday’s game did represent the worst possible scenario for the Bucks: Their 3-pointers weren’t falling, their defense wobbled, their bench was outclassed and the Celtics’ defense prevented Antetokounmpo from slashing to the basket the way he has all season long.

The highest-volume 3-point shooting team in the NBA not named the Houston Rockets went 13-for-39 from beyond the arc. Three players — Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Nikola Mirotic — combined for nine of those 13. No other Buck hit more than one.

Milwaukee’s bench didn’t provide much extra help. Pat Connaughton — the Bucks’ surprise spark in the first round of the playoffs — scored just five points against the Celtics. In one game against the Pistons, Connaughton gave Milwaukee a defensive boost with four blocks. On Sunday, the Bucks were outscored by 21 points when Connaughton was on the floor.

Antetokounmpo’s attempts to drive to the hoop were largely unfruitful. He shot 3-for-17 on contested shots in Game 1. And with Horford and Baynes getting the bulk of the defensive assignment, Antetokounmpo shot 27 percent (4-of-15) in the paint, his worst percentage in the paint in a game this season.

During one missed drive on which Antetokounmpo was fouled, he smacked the stanchion in clear frustration.



Kyrie Irving heats up for 26 points and leads the Celtics to an impressive 112-90 win over the Bucks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Antetokounmpo finished with 22 laborious points and shot just 7-of-21 from the field. Khris Middleton, who kept the Bucks in the game early, finished with 16 points. But Brook Lopez — who earned the nickname Splash Mountain for his ability to nail deep 3s — had just three points in the game. He was 1-of-4 from beyond the arc. Eric Bledsoe had just six points in 25 minutes.

“I’ll tell the guys to forget about it,” Middleton told ESPN. “It is only one game. One bad game can’t be a domino effect. It can’t keep going. We have to start fresh and get back to what we do.”

All season long, the knock on the Bucks has been that they are a regular-season team that lacks the experience to perform under pressure in the playoffs. Those voices began to fade after they swept the Detroit Pistons in Round 1, but the murmurs reappeared quickly on Sunday.

The Bucks are giving themselves the rest of the evening to wallow before returning to the gym, clear-eyed, on Monday. They plan reboot, watch film and identify ways to adjust to the defensive coverages the Celtics are throwing at Antetokounmpo.

“Giannis, as great as he’s been all year, he hasn’t been perfect every night,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He’s hard on himself, so there will probably be some point where I put my arms around him and tell him, ‘You’re going to be great.’ I think Giannis will play better, and we will work on some things between now and Tuesday.”

Perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel for Milwaukee. After all, the last home team to lose a Game 1 by 20-plus points — the San Antonio Spurs — went on to win the series. During the regular season, the Bucks lost only one set of back-to-back games: to Utah and Phoenix on the road in early March.

“The only people that are going to believe in us and fight for us are the people in this locker room,” Connaughton told ESPN. “That is what we have to lean on after getting punched in the mouth in Game 1.”

Source : ESPN