After playing a double-overtime game two days earlier, one team looked like it was juiced and playing in the postseason and the other like it was a game in mid-January. We think you can figure out which team was which. Sure, the Bucks showed emotion at times, but the play was sloppy, passes weren’t crisp and the defense was porous, with Toronto getting easy looks both inside and outside. Don’t just take our word for it. “This is probably the first night defensively where I don't feel like we were close to where you need to be,'' head coach Mike Budenholzer said. Added Khris Middleton: "We've got to guard better. 'Everybody on their team, I feel like they got pretty much whatever they wanted. Everything was easy.'' Normally the third quarter has been Milwaukee’s time to come out and be aggressive and take over the game. Not this time. The Raptors, who led by 10 at the half, outscored the Bucks 29-26. ''We just came out in the third quarter flat,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said. Flat? In a playoff game? No excuses for that and it can’t happen again.
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The Bucks need more of this Khris Middleton (sans one play)
In Games 2 and 3 against Boston, Middleton put up back-to-back games with 20+ points. But in the five games following, he averaged just 12.8 points while shooting an abysmal 30.0% from the field, including 25.8% on 3-point attempts. He turned it around in Game 4 and got back in the groove, sinking 11 of 15 shots (4 of 7 from 3-point land), finishing with 30 points, seven assists and six rebounds. It was the kind of All-Star effort Milwaukee can use the rest of the way. With one exception. That needless foul he committed with 1.9 seconds in the first half gave Toronto two free points. The Bucks need more of the former and none of the latter.
Eric Bledsoe needs to reset
Remember the Boston series last year? Of course you do. We’re witnessing it again this year only against Toronto. Bledsoe is averaging only 8.3 points per game in the four games against Toronto and had just five in Game 4. Budenholzer limited Bledsoe to just 20 1/2 minutes, his fewest minutes of the season bar one (when he played only 2 1/2 minutes due to injury). He’s shooting just 24.4% from the floor and has made only 2 of 18 3-point attempts. Toronto is letting Bledsoe shoot, and he's still not making them. In Milwaukee’s first two playoff series, Bledsoe averaged 16.0 points and shot 47.9% from the field. He has it in him; he just needs to re-find himself.
The bench mob was largely MIA
Milwaukee’s bench has been such a key to its success in this playoff run but in Game 4 the tables were turned. While Toronto got a lot of production out of Serge Ibaka (17 points, 13 rebounds), Norman Powell (18 points, five rebounds, three assists) and Fred VanVleet (13 points, six assists), the Bucks’ subs were, for a change, quiet. Malcolm Brogdon missed his first seven shots and finished with just four points on 2-for-11 shooting. Ersan Ilyasova led the bench in scoring -- with seven points. George Hill, who has had some big games this postseason and has largely picked up the slack for Bledsoe, scored just five points in 26 minutes and had a box score +/- of minus-17 (tied for second worst on the team). Pat Connaughton had just three points and was minus-16 in just 13 minutes. After three quarters, Milwaukee’s bench players had combined for just 12 points. Usually they have that in the first quarter. As we said up top, this one was just ugly.
The Bucks still have the advantage
As in home-court advantage. Yes, Toronto seemingly took back momentum after winning two games at Scotiabank Arena, but Milwaukee still has (potentially) two home games remaining. As a reminder, the Bucks were 33-8 at Fiserv Forum this season. Things are still stacked in the Bucks’ favor, although the margin for error is now razor thin. However, needless to say (and we’re not breaking any new ground here), Game 5 is huge.