Bucks believe they’re better equipped to win a series this postseason

April 15, 2018 GMT

MILWAUKEE — Jason Terry has spent 19 years in the NBA and has made the playoffs 14 times.

So with the Milwaukee Bucks preparing to open their first-round series against the Celtics today at the TD Garden in Boston, Terry made sure his teammates knew what they needed to bring to the table.

To prove that point, he took them back to the very end of last season’s first-round playoff series against the Raptors.

“Our very first team meeting we had this season, we watched the last three minutes of Game 6,” Terry said Saturday. “Everybody in (those) last three minutes played it as if there was no more basketball to be played. That’s the attitude, that’s the mindset, that is the spirit we must play with (today).”

Trailing by 25 points midway through the third quarter and facing elimination in Game 6 against Toronto at the Bradley Center, the Bucks mounted a furious comeback — twice taking a lead in the final quarter — before the Raptors recovered over the final 2:29.

The loss knocked out Milwaukee, which led the series 2-1, but was a motivator heading into the 2017-18 season. The Bucks set their sights on a top-four finish in the Eastern Conference, but were plagued by lackluster defense and maddening stretches of inconsistent effort on both ends of the court.

Failure to meet those expectations cost coach Jason Kidd his job in late January and under Joe Prunty, Kidd’s replacement, Milwaukee finished the season 21-16 and fell to the seventh seed entering the postseason.

As a result, the Bucks drew No. 2 seed Boston in the opening round — a matchup many believe is an ideal opportunity for Milwaukee to win a playoff series for the first time in 17 years. The Celtics won 55 games this season but will be without point guard Kyrie Irving after knee surgery brought his season to an end.

With Irving out, Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo will almost certainly be the best player on the floor for either team. And after taking the Bucks on his back last season against Toronto, Terry thinks Antetokounmpo is ready to take his game up another notch.

“Physically, he’s much stronger (than last season). He’s much more durable,” Terry said. “Mentally, this guy has been through a lot. For him to be able to have the type of season he’s had thus far speaks volumes about his mental toughness.

“Learning from last year’s failures will only fuel him for this year. I know in his workouts this summer, that’s all he’s been thinking about: ‘Let me get my team back to the position again that we were last year and I’ll make sure we get through.’ ”

Antetokounmpo averaged 24.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.7 blocks against the Raptors last season. That performance served as a springboard of sorts for this season, when the All-Star finished fifth in the league at 26.9 points per game.

Numbers alone, though, won’t get the Bucks where they want to go and Antetokounmpo knows it.

“(The) playoffs (are) not about stats, it’s all about winning,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s going to be a long road. We’re going to try to go to the end. We’ve got to come together as a team, go out there play together as a family, as one, and hopefully, we can get a win.”

Antetokounmpo is making the third postseason appearance of his young career. Jabari Parker has never been there and Eric Bledsoe is set to make his first career playoff start (he appeared in the 2011 and ’13 postseason with the Clippers), but youth and inexperience are no longer viable excuses for Milwaukee, which earned a playoff berth in consecutive seasons for the first time since the 2003-04 seasons.

“It’s another level and we know that,” said point guard Malcolm Brogdon, who started all six games against Toronto as a rookie last season. “Everybody is going to make adjustments and play on that next level. We can’t be distracted by the outside noise.”

There will be plenty of noise — both figurative and literally. Terry knows all about that, too, having spent the 2012-13 season in a Celtics uniform.

“Whether (the Celtics) are up 30 or down 30, those fans are in it from start to finish,” Terry said. “The only way you can take them out of it is you go out there and play extremely hard — and they’re still going to be loud. They’re die-hard fans and they live and die with their team.”