New on Sports Illustrated: Three Takeaways From Milwaukee's Face-Saving Win Over Orlando

August 21, 2020 at 07:28AM

The Bucks had seemingly been on cruise control since the restart, but Milwaukee finally showed some signs of life on Thursday against the Magic.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Three thoughts on Milwaukee’s series-tying win over Orlando:

The Bucks rediscovered their defense 

It's been a weird few weeks for Milwaukee, which watched a historically good pre-pandemic defense slip into the middle of the pack in the bubble. 

The Magic lit up the Bucks in Game 1. In Game 2, Milwaukee’s defense sprung to life. Orlando’s numbers in the first quarter: 13 points, 12.5% from the floor, 9.1% from three. Overall, the Bucks held the Magic to 35% shooting from the floor (49% in Game 1) and 21% from three (39% on Tuesday). 

The Bucks are going to have lulls offensively, particularly when Giannis Antetokounmpo is out of the game. Defensively, they have the talent to be great, and they need to be to make a deep postseason run.

Mike Budenholzer wanted aggressiveness 

And he got it in Game 2. The Bucks have seemingly been on cruise control since the restart. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that they didn’t play a meaningful seeding game. But the Magic, down Aaron Gordon, outworked Milwaukee in Game 1. 

On Thursday, the Bucks matched that aggressiveness. Antetokounmpo set the tone, collecting 28 points, most on hard drives to the paint. This was a big moment for Giannis. A loss would have put enormous pressure on Milwaukee—and increased the chatter about his future tenfold. Instead, Giannis responded the way an MVP should: 28 points, 20 rebounds and five assists. 

Not bad, Eric Bledsoe

As has been noted, well, everywhere, Bledsoe is a big wild card for Milwaukee. His recent playoff history has been checkered, to say the least, and there is no Malcolm Brogdon-shaped safety net for the Bucks this season. 

That’s why Budenholzer had to be thrilled to see Bledsoe put together a tidy 13-point, seven-assist stat line while hounding Markelle Fultz all over the floor. Bledsoe’s three-point shooting is still shaky—he missed all three of his attempts on Thursday and is 1-for-8 in two games—but the Bucks will take this kind of effort. The Bucks need this kind of effort, and more.

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