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Meet Your Maker: The Bucks’ Backup Arrives Just in Time

Giannis Antetokounmpo was brilliant again in Game 4, but Milwaukee’s Other Guys, including Thon Maker and Jabari Parker, gave their superstar the support he needed to tie the first-round series with Boston. Can we trust that winning formula going forward?

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks Photo by Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports

Boston nearly recovered from a 20-point deficit, but Milwaukee held off Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to claim Game 4, 104-102, and even up the series. Here are three things we learned:

The Bucks’ Role Players All Show Up

Jabari Parker wanted more playing time. Joe Prunty granted him that in Game 3—ask in front of a dozen reporters and you shall receive—and in Sunday’s series-tying win. Ironically, what he did in the first 10 of his 25 minutes in Game 4 was most noteworthy: Parker racked up three blocks and two steals, numbers he’d never reached in a full game in four seasons in Milwaukee.

Other Bucks role players got the same invitation to finally show up: Matthew Dellavedova was the defensive pest we know and love and hate him for being. Malcolm Brogdon swished his only 3 of the day to tie the game in the closing seconds. (If Milwaukee wasn’t so bad, we’d be having a conversation about its young guys having multiple clutch playoff moments.)

Thon Maker was imposing on both ends of the court, dropping a pair of 3s and protecting the rim like he hired Chris Paul’s State Farm guy. Maker, who played just one minute in the first two games of the series, finished with five blocks and showed a ferocity that had petered this season as his role became less and less clear. That’s been the story of the Bucks: They have a roster filled with players who can’t find a place on the team. To watch them as an effective unit was to get a glimpse of what they could one day become, like walking through a furnished house showing.

We Still Have Trust Issues With the Bucks

About that house showing: You don’t get to keep the furniture.

The big lead the Bucks built going into halftime never felt sustainable, and the group effort Milwaukee displayed doesn’t either. Even after the Bucks executed a convincing first half, holding the Celtics to 35 points, you couldn’t quite convince yourself that you could flip the channel. Some of that came from knowing Brad Stevens will make the necessary adjustments—Boston’s 32-point third quarter is proof of that—but it’s also a reflection of how unreliable the Bucks are. The aforementioned good role-player performances wouldn’t be pleasant surprises in an ideal world, but that’s where we are with a team that settled for the East’s 7-seed despite having Giannis and an army of long defenders. A solid 20-point lead seemed untrustworthy, and even with the Celtics shooting like they were all wearing Joel Embiid’s mask, it was.

Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number

You can usually point to one season when a player came into his own. For Jaylen Brown, it’s been this series. The only positive of Kyrie Irving’s and Gordon Hayward’s absences is watching Brown, a sophomore, and Jayson Tatum, a rookie, carry responsibilities they would otherwise not yet be trusted with. Brown can’t end a game without the phrase “new career high” tacked onto his stat line.

Brown is on pace to become the youngest Celtic to average 20 points in a playoff series, and he’s not even the younger of the two Js! (Though Brown, at 21, is younger than Rookie of the Year 1A Ben Simmons and Rookie of the Year 1B Donovan Mitchell.) The last couple of weeks haven’t been a coming-out party so much as an ongoing party that fans have finally stumbled upon.

Both Brown and Tatum struggled to get their shots off in the first half. But they led Boston after the break, scoring 37 second-half points together and making a combined 67 percent of their contested shots. Like, say, this one: