The NBA playoffs are a constant game of chess.
One team makes a move, another counters.
The moves Milwaukee Bucks head coach Joe Prunty made Friday night for critical Game 3 of his team’s best-of-seven series at the Bradley Center paid off handsomely.
Prunty’s best decision was sticking with Jabari Parker and ramping up Parker’s minutes. After playing just 15 and 10 minutes in the first two games, respectively, Prunty kept Parker on the court for 30 minutes. That was the second most-minutes for a Bucks player, surpassed only by Khris Middleton’s 33 minutes.
Parker was quite active at both ends of the floor, connecting on seven of 12 field-goal attempts and playing some top-notch defense. He collected five rebounds, second on the Bucks to Middleton’s eight.
Said Prunty of Parker’s performance: “He played very well. He came in and didn’t try to force anything. He allowed the game to come to him and we had a good rhythm going.’’
Prunty’s other effective move for Game 3 was inserting Malcolm Brogdon into the starting lineup. Brogdon, the reigning Rookie of the Year, wasn’t much of a factor on defense and didn’t need to be as the Bucks had more than enough firepower.
But Brogdon impacted the game with his defense. He played lock-down defense on Celtics’ shooting guard Jaylen Brown, who averaged a team-leading 25 points for the two previous playoff games. But Brogdon clung to Brown like a wet suit, limiting him to 0-for-3 shooting in the opening period when the Bucks took a commanding 27-12 advantage.
Brown finished the game with a mere 11 points – 14 under his playoff average.
Said Boston coach Brad Stevens of Prunty’s decision to start Brogdon: “I thought that was a really good move.’’
With Brogdon doing his part, the Bucks busted out of the gate and sent a message they weren’t going to fall to 0-3 in the series.
“They were extremely aggressive,’’ Stevens said. “I think that set the tone for how the game was played. The energy level they played at was incredible.’’
Middleton on fire
Khris Middleton had an uneven season.
He’s having an out-of-body playoff run.
Middleton not only is averaging 26.3 points through three playoff games but also averaging 6.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists. He has put on a shooting clinic: the veteran swingman is shooting a lights-out 62 percent from the field and a smokin’ 63 percent on 3-pointers.
“Khris has been amazing,’’ Bucks backup center Thon Maker said. “Defensively, he was working his butt off. And, offensively, hit shot was … automatic. Khris is showing what a two-way player he is.’’
Back to reality
One of the major factors in the Celtics’ success in the first two games was the sterling play of Terry Rozier, their fine young point guard.
Rozier, the Celtics’ third string point guard who has been thrust into the starting role because of injuries to Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart, didn’t a fabulous job of protecting the basketball. He didn’t turn the ball over in either game.
But in Game 3, Rozier committed five turnovers – two in the first four minutes and four in the pivotal first half when the Bucks opened up a whopping 23-point advantage.
Rockin’ and rollin’
The Bradley Center can be one of the loudest places in the NBA, and that was the case on Friday night.
The sellout-crowd of 18,717 was energized before the opening tip until the final buzzer. Players from both teams acknowledged the partisan crowd’s involvement.
Said Stevens: “It was a great environment.’’
Added Prunty: “Our fans were great. We’re going to need them again on Sunday.’’
The way Bucks starting center John Henson was hobbling around on Friday night, it’s unlikely he’ll play again in Game 4. … With Henson unavailable, Thon Maker got some rare major minutes and capitalized on them. In 24 minutes off the bench, Maker had 14 points and five blocks, which was three more than the entire Celtics teams posted. … Middleton on Parker’s strong showing in Game 3: “He’s a dangerous guy and a dangerous scorer and a great teammate.’
— Photo by BILL TENNESSEN