Early on Thursday evening, the 2020 NBA playoffs continued with Game 2 between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Orlando Magic. In a stunning upset, the Magic ran away from the top-seeded Bucks in Game 1 on Tuesday, but Giannis Antetokounmpo and Co. bounced back in a major way in Game 2. They dominated almost the entire way, winning 111-96 to even the series at 1-1.
The Bucks’ defense inside the bubble had looked nothing like the No. 1 unit in the league, but they found their form on Thursday evening. They completely stifled the Magic early on, holding them to just 13 points in the first quarter. That set the tone, and they led by as much as 23 before coasting to victory. Giannis led the way as per usual, finishing with 28 points, 20 rebounds and five assists.
Orlando was a mess to start the game, shooting 3 of 24 in the first quarter, which quickly put them behind by double digits. To their credit, they kept fighting and put a little scare into the Bucks in the fourth quarter, but they never really had a chance after such a rough start. Nikola Vucevic had another strong game in defeat, finishing with 32 points and 10 rebounds.
Here are three key takeaways from the game:
1. Bucks make a statement
The Bucks were the best team in the league all season long, and at one point looked on track to join the elusive 70-win club. But since they restart they’ve been sluggish, coasting through games looking nothing like a title contender, especially on the defensive end. That was one thing in the seeding games, which didn’t really matter after they quickly locked up the No. 1 seed. When it continued into Game 1 of this series, that was a problem.
But while no one wants to lose their first playoff game, it might have been exactly the wake-up call the Bucks needed. They weren’t perfect in Game 2, but they came out with incredible energy, and were flying all over the place on the defensive end. Just watch this play by Giannis, sprinting back in transition for an unreal block.
You would have liked them to close out the game with more authority in the fourth quarter, but overall this was a much, much better performance from the Bucks, and a reminder of how dominant they can be on both sides of the ball. Now, they’ll just need to show they can keep it up.
2. Paging Khris Middleton
Middleton was terrific this season. He made his second straight All-Star Game, averaged a career-high 20.9 points, and fell just shy of joining the 50/40/90 club. But he could have won the scoring title and shot 60 percent from the field, and everyone would still have been asking the same question: what can he do in the playoffs?
Middleton was awesome last regular season too, then became pretty average in the postseason, giving Milwaukee 16.9 points on 41.8 percent shooting, and was essentially a non-factor against the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals. In an elimination game in Game 6, he put up six points in a narrow six-point loss. It doesn’t matter how good Giannis is, if Middleton plays like that again in the playoffs, the Bucks won’t win a title.
Unfortunately for him and the Bucks, he has been so far. They won on Thursday night, but he shouldn’t get a pass for scoring just two points. That simply can’t happen. He’s now averaging a cool eight points on 25 percent shooting over the first two games, and the Bucks need him to find his groove before they start playing teams that can actually beat them four times in a series.
3. Shout out to Vucevic
Even as they’ve rejoined the playoff ranks the last few seasons, the Magic are sort of a forgotten team on the NBA landscape. If anything, they’re probably most known by casual fans for Aaron Gordon’s work in the Slam Dunk Contest. And that’s a shame because it means Nikola Vucevic gets overlooked.
He’s not a flashy or super exciting player, but that guy is just really good at basketball. For years he’s been a double-double machine, and with his improved 3-point shot has become extremely difficult to guard. The Bucks have found out first-hand in this series, as he’s put up two monster games.
In their Game 1 win, Vucevic went for 35 points and 14 rebounds, and in Game 2 he followed that up with 32 and 10 to become the first Magic player since Dwight Howard to have back-to-back 30 point games in the playoffs. And though it ultimately wasn’t enough, his 16-point third quarter single-handedly dragged them back into the game. The Magic are going to lose this series, but hopefully, everyone appreciates what Vucevic is doing out there every night.