Tougher challenge awaits defending champ Bucks in 2nd round

MILWAUKEE (AP) — After a bumpy starting to their postseason, the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks rediscovered their championship kind in loads of time to get rid of the Chicago Bulls of their opening-round sequence.

They probably received’t make it previous the following spherical except they’re taking part in at this stage proper from the beginning.

The Bucks subsequent face the scorching Boston Celtics, who swept the Brooklyn Nets within the opening spherical. Their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup begins Sunday in Boston.

“They’re the hottest team in the league,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer mentioned Wednesday after the Bucks’ 116-100 series-clinching Game 5 victory over the Chicago Bulls. “You’d have to be in a cave to not know they’re winning every game. They’re the best defense in the league, got great players, great coaching.”

The Bucks don’t count on to have three-time All-Star ahead Khris Middleton out there for the beginning of the sequence.

Middleton sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in Game 2 of the Bulls sequence and mentioned Friday he hoped to return in two weeks. That timeline would sign a possible return in Game 3 of the Celtics sequence May 7 in Milwaukee.

The Bucks twice rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win a playoff sequence throughout their title run final season, however they will’t depend on that occuring once more. That means the Bucks should attempt to proceed performing as effectively with out Middleton as they did within the ultimate three video games in opposition to the Bulls.

Milwaukee didn’t look notably sharp in a 93-86 Game 1 victory and a 114-110 Game 2 loss, however the Bucks received the following three video games by a mean of 23.3 factors. The Bucks took command of the sequence by counting on their protection.

“Obviously we don’t know how many points we’re going to score with Khris — one of our best scorers — being out,” Bucks ahead Giannis Antetokounmpo mentioned. “In order for us to win games, we’ve got to play defense. We’ve got to get down, have that individual pride, try to keep the guy in front of us from scoring. And at the end of the day, we’ve got to do it together.”

Defense had been a relative weak spot for Milwaukee through the common season, nevertheless it was no drawback in any respect in opposition to the Bulls.

The Bulls exceeded the 100-point mark in simply one of many 5 video games and shot under 40% thrice.

“Team defense was great this whole series,” Bucks guard Wesley Matthews mentioned. “That’s what we’re going to need going into Boston.”

Milwaukee additionally wants Antetokounmpo and the gamers surrounding him to play in addition to they did in opposition to Chicago.

Antetokounmpo averaged 28.6 factors, 13.4 rebounds and 6.2 assists within the Bulls sequence. Bobby Portis had 4 double-doubles and picked up a career-high 17 rebounds in Game 5. Grayson Allen had two video games of 20-plus factors. Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez and Pat Connaughton every had one recreation with at the very least 20 factors.

But that got here in opposition to a Bulls workforce that was lacking Lonzo Ball since January and didn’t have both Zach LaVine or Alex Caruso in Game 5. The Celtics are rather more harmful.

The Celtics’ sweep of the Nets continued the momentum they established the previous couple of months of the common season. Boston was under .500 in late January however received 28 of its final 35 regular-season video games to complete 51-31 and earn the NBA’s No. 2 seed.

“It’s going to be a battle,” Matthews mentioned. “They’re a good team. But so are we.”


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