fb-pixel Skip to main content

Bucks get a failing grade in playoff chemistry

The Bucks haven’t been able to put much together in this series.jim davis/globe staff

What was shocking was that Milwaukee Bucks coach Joe Prunty said it repeatedly and so matter-of-factly.

The Celtics are playing harder than his team. The Celtics are playing with more passion and fortitude.

It’s the playoffs, and Prunty has watched his team endure several mental breakdowns, his players sometimes looking apathetic, as if they realize they are an inferior team.

On a third-quarter Celtics fast break during Game 2 Tuesday, Jabari Parker and Tony Snell stood near the Milwaukee basket and watched as the Celtics raced down the floor and Terry Rozier drained a 3-pointer from right in front of the Bucks bench.


It was a shining example of the dysfunction that’s occurring right in front of Prunty, who was an NBA assistant for 16 years before being named head coach when Jason Kidd was fired in January.

The Bucks have talent. They have youth. But they just don’t seem to have any chemistry. They are playing with different agendas. Some are playing within the framework of Prunty’s system. Others are going through the motions.

The combination of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton is 46 for 72 from the field (63.8 percent) in the series. They have been beyond efficient, especially Antetokounmpo, who has scored 65 points in the two games with an array of nifty moves using his supreme athleticism.

Those two aren’t the issue.

Eric Bledsoe was acquired from the Phoenix Suns for the express purpose of competing favorably with front-line point guards. Bucks general manager Jon Horst believed Bledsoe would be an upgrade from reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, and moved Greg Monroe to Phoenix to get Bledsoe.

Bledsoe has been putrid in this series, completely outplayed by counterpart Terry Rozier (and then Bledsoe said after Game 2 that he had no idea who Rozier was). Bledsoe is 9 for 25 shooting, with 8 assists, 6 turnovers, and porous defense on Rozier.


“Every guy has to be ready to play, and we tried multiple different options,” Prunty said after Game 2. “Some guys showed some things, others did not.

“But in the postseason, you have to be ready to play right when you step on the floor. This isn’t a ‘get comfortable, find my rhythm.’ No, your rhythm has to start before you enter the game.”

In Game 2, Prunty used Shabazz Muhammad, signed after being waived by Minnesota, and he showed signs of being effective. That may soak up the minutes of Parker, a former No. 2 overall draft pick (2014) who has been a nonfactor in the series after averaging 12.6 points and 4.9 rebounds in 31 games since coming back from a second torn ACL.

Parker was supposed to be the X-factor. He has the ability to score from the perimeter and the size to post up. He was supposed to help the Bucks create major matchup problems for the Celtics. Instead, he looks completely lost and uninterested, evidenced by not running back on defense during that fast break.

“He’s one of those guys that we need to pick up what he needs to do on the floor,” Prunty said. “He’s got to be assertive. We need everybody to be out there to guard, to defend. You have to be able to fight through screens. You can’t get confused on screens. All of our guys have to be ready to defend and play at a higher level than we did [in Game 2].”


The playoffs are meant for the players who thrive in big moments. They are not meant for guys who rely on past glory or accomplishments, because the spotlight is the brightest and every play is magnified, and even some of the most talented players can shrink in the moment.

The Bucks are a talented team, but they are currently shrinking in the moment, content to watch Antetokounmpo and Middleton take all the shots and then complain when they waste their rare opportunities.

What differentiates the Celtics from the Bucks is that it seems every Boston player has been preparing for these moments during the regular season.

This isn’t the Isaiah Thomas edition, when he would carry the team offensively in long stretches. The Celtics have had to thrive on balance. Boston had six players score in double figures in Game 2, including Shane Larkin and Monroe.

They are playing with more passion because they are playing within a system that has been created for their success. The Bucks have been relegated to one-on-one play that may keep them close for a while but has hardly been good enough to win.

Only a Middleton 35-footer sent Game 1 into overtime. And while the Bucks still have a chance to make a splash in this series as it returns to Bradley Center, they appear to have no idea how to go about being more cohesive and passionate.


“There are plays where they are diving on the floor and it’s all the way through,” Prunty said. “We’ve got to get going all the way through. There’s no wiggle room here. We need to come out with more of a sense of urgency right from the beginning of the game and impose our will.”

The question is why that hasn’t happened already. It’s the playoffs.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.