‘Desperate’ Milwaukee Bucks Brace for Red-Hot Boston Celtics

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Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks walks to the baseline prior to Game 5 against the Chicago Bulls.

Their backs weren’t quite up against a wall, but the Milwaukee Bucks felt a little more pressure than they probably should have. A heavy favorite against the Chicago Bulls, a team they’ve dominated recently, the Bucks struggled out of the gate, dropping one of their first two games at home in their first-round playoff series.

The Bucks bounced back nicely. Two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said his team had to get desperate, and it paid off. Milwaukee will likely remain in desperation mode when they face the red-hot Boston Celtics in a series that begins Sunday.

The Milwaukee Bucks are expected to be without Khris Middleton against the Boston Celtics

'Desperate' Milwaukee Bucks Brace for Red-Hot Boston Celtics
Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks walks to the baseline prior to Game 5 against the Chicago Bulls at Fiserv Forum on April 27, 2022, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. | Stacy Revere/Getty Images.

The Bucks face their toughest challenge this season when they square off against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The series tips off Sunday with Game 1 in Boston.

The challenge is even tougher for the third-seeded Bucks now that a report has been put out that Khris Middleton will be out for the series. Middleton injured himself as he slipped while driving to the basket during Game 2 of the series against the Bulls.

“The left MCL injury of Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton is a Grade 2 sprain and he is expected to miss the entire second-round series vs. Celtics, sources tell @TheAthletic@Stadium,” Shams Charania of The Athletic posted via Twitter on Thursday. “The recovery of Grade 2 MCL places a potential Conference Finals in jeopardy for him as well.”

Middleton’s absence is a tough blow. The Celtics enter the postseason as the hottest team in the Eastern Conference. Winners of 30 of their last 36 games, the Celtics turned things around after a rocky start that saw them at 25-25 through 50 games.

Boston’s stifling defense shut down Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets, who entered the playoffs as the favorite to win the East, despite being the seventh seed. The Celtics swept the Nets, keeping their hot streak going.

The Milwaukee Bucks got ‘desperate’ against the Bulls and will have to do the same against the Celtics

The Bulls nearly walked out of Fiserv Forum with a 2-0 series lead. In the opener, Chicago shot poorly as a team (32.3%), yet managed to hold a lead with six minutes remaining. The Bucks rebounded, pulling out the victory.

The Bulls shot much better in Game 2 and built up a 14-point lead at halftime. The Bulls held on for a 114-110 win, and with Middleton going down with the injury and the Bucks playing on the road the next two games, things got a little scary for Milwaukee.

The Bucks dug deep. They took charge in Chicago, winning both games, and then closed out the series at home Wednesday.

“After Game 2, the team knew what the deal was,” Antetokounmpo said, per ESPN. “We knew what we had to do. We had to be desperate, and we had to go out there and compete at a high level. Pay attention to detail as much as possible. Help one another defensively. We’ve got to do it as a team. It’s not a one-man show or two-man show.”

The Bucks are going to have to play at that same desperation level, beginning Sunday.

“Now we’re going to a different series, playing a different team, a very, very good team, and hopefully we can do it again,” Antetokounmpo said.

The Bucks will need balance to beat the Celtics

Middleton is a significant loss. The Bucks won’t deny that. They also know they have a strong supporting cast that can pick up the slack.

“We miss Khris,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said, per ESPN. “I don’t think anybody underestimates how important and how effective he is for us. While we don’t have him, we’ve got to be our best all up and down the roster.”

With Milwaukee’s second-biggest scoring threat on the sidelines, the Celtics can focus on stopping Antetokounmpo. Last series, Boston locked up two of the game’s biggest offensive stars.

Without Middleton, the Bucks will have to prove they are more than just Antetokounmpo.

“We’ve been talking about the depth of the roster, the quality of the roster a lot this season,” said Budenholzer. “Other guys have gotten opportunities and played well. Our defense has tightened up. We’ve leaned hard on that these three games.”

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