The Milwaukee Bucks need one more victory to finish off the Orlando Magic.
After dropping the series opener, the Bucks look to close out the Eastern Conference first-round matchup with their fourth straight win on Wednesday afternoon when they face the Magic at AdventHealth Arena near Orlando.
The eighth-seeded Magic delivered a wakeup call to the Bucks with a 122-110 victory in Game 1. But top-seeded Milwaukee has responded by winning the past three games by an average of 14.7 points.
Forward Khris Middleton has seen the difference and was highly pleased with a turnaround that includes Monday’s 121-106 victory.
“The difference between Game 1 and this game was we played hard no matter how they were playing,” Middleton told reporters. “We know that is how it’s going to be in the playoffs. Sometimes things aren’t going to go our way and we’re not going to make shots and we’re going to make bad plays.
“But as long as we keep grinding it out, we’re going to give ourselves a chance at the end of the day.”
Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Middleton teamed up for big efforts in Game 4.
Antetokounmpo scored 31 points on 14-of-21 shooting and also recorded 15 rebounds and eight assists. Middleton added 21 points and 10 boards for his best effort of the series after averaging just 11 points and 6.3 rebounds over the first three games.
Orlando was able to hang around due to its long-range shooting — it finished 18 of 45 from 3-point range — before the Bucks outscored the Magic 37-25 in the decisive final quarter.
“We found our identity again, which is to play defense,” Antetokounmpo said afterward. “No matter if we score the ball or not, we’ve got to keep defending.”
Big man Nikola Vucevic will look to keep the Magic in the series as his club attempts to avoid elimination.
Vucevic registered 31 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in Game 4 for his third 30-point outing of the series. He also made a personal playoff-best six 3-pointers.
But he was disappointed with the team’s final-quarter performance when a victory to even the series was there for the taking.
“To start the fourth we went through a dry spell offensively and we didn’t execute well,” Vucevic said afterward. “It’s tough when you play well for three quarters. You have to be able to execute and make shots and we didn’t.”
Vucevic has an opportunity to become the first player in franchise history to record four 30-point performances in a playoff series. But he will likely need some teammates to step up if there is to be a Game 6.
Swingman Terrence Ross scored 19 points off the bench in Game 4 but was just 1 of 8 from 3-point range. Starting shooting guard Evan Fournier was just 4 of 14 from the field while contributing 12 points.
What would really help is the sight of standout power forward Aaron Gordon on the court.
Gordon strained his left hamstring against the Toronto Raptors on Aug. 5 and has missed the past eight games. Orlando coach Steve Clifford thought there was a chance Gordon would play in Game 4 but that didn’t occur. Gordon is listed as questionable for Game 5.
So now it will again be a wait-and-see scenario for the Magic. But Vucevic feels Gordon’s presence or lack thereof doesn’t affect the situation.
“It’s win or go home for us,” Vucevic said. “We just have to give it all and see what happens.”
Clifford expects nothing short of a supreme effort from his club.
“Our guys have really good character,” Clifford told reporters. “These games are the tough ones, down 3-1, but I’d be surprised if we didn’t come out with a great approach and play good again.”
Meanwhile, the Bucks aren’t about to coast until they have four wins in their coffers.
“I have a ton of respect for Orlando and how they’re playing and competing and executing and the talent they have,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said. “This is playoff basketball. … We have a lot of work still to do.”
–Field Level Media