MILWAUKEE — Mike Budenholzer isn’t a big speech maker.
The Milwaukee Bucks went back to the locker room at halftime of Tuesday night’s Game 2 against the Boston Celtics with a four-point lead. Budenholzer didn’t lecture. Instead he reminded his team that this is where Game 1 got away from them. The third quarter made all the difference on Sunday.
In the first game, Giannis Antetokoumpo finished with 22 points on 7-of-21 shooting. On Tuesday, he had 29 points on 7-of-16 shooting. Bledsoe went from scoring 6 points in Game 1 to 21 points in Game 2. Khris Middleton, who scored 16 points on Sunday, had 28.
“We got an ass-whooping in Game 1,” Antetokounmpo said in his on-court interview with TNT after the game. “We had to come out here and play harder in Game 2.”
The Bucks didn’t make drastic changes between Games 1 and 2. At practice on Monday, Budenholzer said the issues wasn’t their space-and-pace game plan, it was the Bucks’ execution of it. After watching Game 1 tape, Antetokounmpo, Bledsoe and Middleton all agreed: Effort was the problem. Budenholzer swapped out Sterling Brown for Nikola Mirotic in the starting lineup. Brown was suffering from back spasms and Mirotic had provided a much-needed offensive spark during the first game. Mirotic finished with nine points.
Still, the beginning of the first quarter was eerily reminiscent of Sunday’s game: The Bucks came out sluggish. Antetokounmpo was walled off by the Boston’s defense, Bledsoe turned over the ball one too many times.
By halftime, the Bucks had begun to find a rhythm. By the end of the third quarter, even Antetokounmpo was nailing 3s. Early on, the Fiserv Forum crowd cheered tentatively, as if expecting the home team to release their lead at any moment. But as the third period came to a close, their hesitation had evaporated, and the building vibrated with anticipation.
Antetokounmpo had 13 points, four rebounds and an assist during the Bucks’ third-quarter run.
“We felt we put ourselves in a better position to win in the first half and coming out of the third quarter,” Middleton said.
With the series tied, the Bucks will head to Boston for Game 3. During last year’s playoffs, the Bucks went 0-4 at TD Garden. The Boston crowd was relentless in its heckling of Bledsoe, who engaged in trash talk with Terry Rozier throughout the series.
“I know what is ahead,” Bledsoe told ESPN. “I know the crowd don’t forget nothing. I have to be way more focused going into Game 3. That’s the most focused I’ll need to be this entire series. That’ll be our toughest game.”