MILWAUKEE — The Bucks formula just couldn’t last, and their time in the spotlight would reach an abrupt conclusion the same way Mike Budenholzer’s 60-win Atlanta Hawks flamed out in the playoffs. Teams can’t play nine guys in the conference finals, can’t continue to jack threes at will, and ought to rely instead on superstar isolation and tougher mid-range shots. After all, this is the playoffs.
All of that talk and presumption is why Game 2’s 125-103 wire-to-wire win validated not just the Milwaukee regular season — one in which questions existed about whether they could get the job done come April, May, and maybe even June — but also Budenholzer’s philosophy that (pun incoming) bucks conventional wisdom around playoff basketball.
After Game 1, Budenholzer said the squad wanted to stay true to themselves, placing an emphasis on spacing and a desire to “let it fly,” even late in monster playoff moments. That includes being able to bring players like Malcolm Brogdon, Ersan Ilyasova, and George Hill off the bench, eschewing the shortened rotations that are commonplace this time of year. On Friday night, Pat Connaughton made it nine guys who played legitimate minutes before garbage time as the bench carried them.
Budenholzer understands Game 2 is the best-case scenario for his vision of how the Bucks can play, but even bumps in the road aren’t going to deter him.
“We’re going to lose some games and we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing all year,” Budenholzer said after the win. “You can’t just base it on the results. Obviously tonight was a huge positive. The guys that learned a way to play — they believe in it. We believe in it.”
Ilyasova threw on a shooting sleeve on a chilly May night and lit the Raptors up for 15 in the first half alone, finishing with 17 for the game. Brogdon added 12 of his own and the bench put in 31 points just in the first half. In fact, Milwaukee’s bench was just seven points short of matching Toronto’s entire first half output.