ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — Milwaukee Bucks big man Thon Maker marked his first postseason game with a block party in familiar surroundings.
The 7-foot-1 rookie wasn’t worried about performing under playoff pressure against the Toronto Raptors, even if just a year ago he was a little-known prospect who played prep ball in Ontario.
The Bucks hope the 20-year-old can help the team secure another first-round playoff win on the road when Milwaukee visits the Raptors for Game 2 on Tuesday night.
“I was not nervous at all. I was too hyped for one thing,” Maker said. “The crowd, the music, the environment — I was very hyped. … The crowd might be against you, but you can use that in a positive way.”
Maker channeled that energy on the defensive end in the third quarter of Game 1 on Saturday, a 97-83 win.
The Bucks were trailing by seven with 10:37 left in the period when Maker recorded the first of two blocks within a three-minute span, including one at point-blank range on driving Raptors star DeMar DeRozan . Maker also hit a 15-foot jumper and got a steal in that span.
His play helped set the tone for the rest of the second half, when the Bucks outscored the Raptors 51-32 to pull away .
The game “was a special one because it was back in Toronto,” Maker said . “But it’s also more special because it’s the playoffs.”
It’s been quite the year for Maker, a somewhat surprising selection by the Bucks with the 10th overall pick of the first round in the NBA draft in June. He had spent the previous two years at the Athlete Institute Academy in Mono, Ontario, about 52 miles northwest of Toronto. A native of South Sudan, Maker has also lived in Australia and the United States.
His raw athletic ability and wingspan draw comparisons to teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo, a 6-foot-11 forward who has blossomed into an All-Star in his fourth year in the league.
Antetokounmpo was a raw talent out of Greece when he was taken with the 15th overall pick by the Bucks in the 2013 draft. But Antetokounmpo averaged about 24 minutes in his rookie season in 2013-14 for a team that finished with just 15 wins.
The rebuilding Bucks have more talent now, and they have the luxury of bringing Maker along at a slower pace.
Maker averaged about 10 minutes a game in the regular season, though he started getting more playing time in February, when coach Jason Kidd began using the rookie to start the first and third quarters.
“He’s real active, he plays extremely hard. It’s contagious what he brings,” said veteran center Greg Monroe, who comes off the bench and typically finishes games for Milwaukee.
Maker is part of a strong rookie class for Milwaukee, which also drafted Malcolm Brogdon in the second round. Brogdon arrived at the Bradley Center looking and sounding like a veteran following a decorated four-year college career at Virginia.
Brogdon established himself as an NBA Rookie of the Year candidate after taking over the point guard job and contributing from the first day of the season. Maker has taken a little more time to develop.
But they’re both making important contributions now in the playoffs.
“Look, you don’t know what’s going to happen with guys. It’s a pleasant surprise,” general manager John Hammond said. Maker “always had that kind of energy, but he was able to focus in and be kind of a real positive factor in the game. You look at Malcolm, we say he doesn’t play like a rookie. He plays like more of a seasoned player and he showed that in the game.”