1. Milwaukee’s best need to play like it
The trio of Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe all had tremendous regular seasons in leading the Bucks to their best record in over 40 years. Giannis is in line to win his first MVP trophy. Middleton was a first-time All-Star. Bledsoe earned First-Team All-Defensive honors and earned a four-year $70 million contract extension.
Despite their relative lack of playoff experience, their talent level was supposed to simply overwhelm the opposition on the way to the NBA Finals. Five games into the Eastern Conference Finals and their play has been anything but dominant, which is why Milwaukee finds itself in such unfamiliar territory down 3-2.
As mentioned earlier, Giannis’ field goal percentage is down while his turnovers are up. Granted, the 23.0 points per game on 46.0 percent shooting are numbers a majority of NBA players would gladly put up, but the bar is set much higher than that for a player with some of the gaudiest statistical production the league has seen in a long time.
After hitting 37.8 percent of his 3-point looks during the regular season, Middleton’s latest 0-for-2 outing has him at just 33.3 percent in the conference finals. This does nothing to explain a free throw percentage that’s dropped 10.4 percentage points for a guy Milwaukee counted on during the regular season from the stripe.
Bledsoe has always been a touch-and-go player for the entirety of his career, equally adept at scoring over 20 points one night while failing to crack double-digits the next two. In this series, his play has trended more towards the latter in shooting just 28.8 percent from the field and 15.4 percent from beyond the arc.
All three of these talented players have seen a noticeable decrease in both points per game and overall efficiency from the field. Defenses are admittedly stingier in the postseason, but those who compete for titles tend to elevate their level of play when it matters most.
This Big 3 played a large role in getting the team to this point in the season with arguably the best basketball of their respective careers. To keep their season alive, the Bucks are going to need them to recapture that same level of play, or they’ll see everything they’ve built come crumbling down earlier than expected.