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Bucks’ lack of urgency a big concern heading into Game 3 of playoff series vs. Celtics

April 18, 2018 GMT

MILWAUKEE — More concerning than the Milwaukee Bucks’ actual performance Tuesday night in Game 2 of their first-round NBA playoff series at Boston is what they had to say after their 120-106 loss to the Celtics.

“They were the more desperate team tonight,” Khris Middleton said of the Celtics, who lead the best-of-seven series 2-0.

“I think as a team we didn’t show up tonight,” was the assessment of Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Interim coach Joe Prunty noticed it, too.

“Boston, from the jump, I thought they played harder,” Prunty said. “The little things were the problems and a lot of that added up throughout the entire game. We will regroup and head back home for Game 3.”

With two days before the series resumes Friday night at the Bradley Center, the Bucks will have plenty of work to do but addressing their disturbing lack of urgency will be at the very top of Prunty’s to-do list.

“Loose balls, little things, even on offensive rebounds early in the game as well,” Prunty said. “The little things were problems and a lot of that added up throughout the entire game.”

The script was eerily similar to Game 1, when the Bucks found themselves buried early. Milwaukee stormed back to take a lead into halftime and stayed close late, forcing overtime on a Middleton buzzer-beater before Boston pulled away for the win.

But unlike Game 1, the Bucks never recovered from Boston’s opening punch and never mounted any sort of threat.

The reasons were also similar: The Bucks shot well (59.7 percent) but gave up 21 points on 15 rebounds and 20 more second-chance points by a lack of intensity on the defensive glass.

And the Bucks’ defensive effort was almost non-existent, especially against Boston point guard Terry Rozier, who matched his Game 1 total with 23 points.

Rozier sank three from beyond the arc and also dished out three assists while grabbing three rebounds.

He accomplished most of that, again, while matched up against Bucks point guard Eric Bledsoe, who added to the list of unsettling postgame comments when he was asked about Rozier’s performance so far.

“I don’t even know who the (expletive) that is,” Bledsoe said.

You’d have to assume Bledsoe is playing coy because he’s certainly heard Rozier’s name plenty during the series. Rozier is 7-for-17 with Bledsoe guarding him, including the step-back 3-pointer that gave Boston a lead in the waining seconds of regulation in Game 1.

Bledsoe meanwhile has made just 4 of 13 shots when matched up with Rozier. He scored 12 points in Game 2 but is 9-for-25 in the series with six turnovers.

Rozier’s presence was supposed to be a vulnerability for the Celtics and opportunity for the Bucks. The third-year guard had not started a game before this season but was thrust into the role when Kyrie Irving was lost for the season following knee surgery.

Instead, Rozier has been the driving force behind a Celtics team that is in a position to take a 3-0 lead in the series.

“We just got to keep fighting, playing as a team.” Bledsoe said. “Khris and Giannis are carrying the load right now.”

The duo combined for 55 points on 21-of-31 shooting in Game 2. Middleton (25 points) added four more 3-pointers, while Antetokounmpo (30 points) flirted with a triple-double, finishing with nine rebounds and eight assists.

But they’re just as culpable as their teammates for Milwaukee’s struggles. Milwaukee’s plus/minus with Antetokounmpo on the floor was minus-13 and minus-18 with Middleton.

Antetokounmpo, to his credit accepts responsibility not only for his shortcomings so far, but also for setting the tone moving forward as the Bucks try to claw their way back into the series.

“We are the leaders of this team and it starts from us,” Antetokounmpo said. “We’ve got to lead by example and hopefully, the other guys can follow behind. I think guys are going to do a better job. Just play harder and do whatever it takes to help this team be successful.”