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Winners and Losers: Giannis Is in Control Now

The MVP favorite racked up a near triple-double to hand the Celtics a second straight loss and help the Bucks take charge in their second-round playoff series

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics - Game Three Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

All of the good, bad, and Jaylen Brown dunks of Friday’s Bucks-Celtics game.

Game 3: Bucks 123, Celtics 116

Winner: Giannis Antetokounmpo

The funny thing about a classic Giannis stat line is that it looks just like him: impossibly large, and slightly unnatural. In Milwaukee’s 123-116 Game 3 win, Giannis put up 32 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists, two steals, and three blocks, and took 22 foul shots—more than the rest of the Bucks combined, and the most from any player in a postseason game in the past two seasons. On nights like Friday, it’s hard to imagine that Giannis can play any way other than hyper-efficiently. He can out-pace, out-length, and out-finish everyone else on the floor.

Giannis shows flashes of being one of the few players in the league who can decide a game on his own. Though he had assistance from Milwaukee’s Pat Connaughton (14 points) and George Hill (21 points—more on him later), and even as Boston held it within eight to start the fourth, this seemed like a game Giannis would not give up.

The refs’ penchant for sending Giannis to the line didn’t expand to the rest of the Bucks. By the end of the first half, only he and Kyrie Irving had attempted free throws (Giannis was 6-for-8, and Irving 4-for-4). Despite that, Irving, who finished 11-for-12 from the line, took issue with the officiating:

If Irving thinks Giannis is unfairly getting superstar calls, he’s at least half-right—Giannis certainly is the superstar of this series.

Winner: George Hill stepping in for Loser: Eric Bledsoe

Milwaukee didn’t know that Malcolm Brogdon would injure his right foot when it traded for George Hill in December. But Hill was necessary insurance in Game 3. Eric Bledsoe had his semi-annual dud of a playoff game and Mike Budenholzer needed a point guard that could keep up with Boston’s platoon of guards. Hill came off the bench and delivered: 21 points on 9-for-12 shooting, four rebounds, and three assists.

Hill doesn’t receive many opportunities on offense with Milwaukee, averaging the fewest regular-season minutes, shot attempts, and points since his rookie season in 2008-09. But he has played in major playoff games before. He started each postseason game he appeared in from the 2012 playoffs up until last year’s, for Indiana, Utah, and Cleveland. So yes, even after a lousy season or two, Hill is qualified for this moment. And as a career 38 percent 3-point shooter, he’s suited to playing off those Giannis barrels toward the rim, either by drilling open 3s (2-for-3 on Friday) or attacking closeouts.

A postseason game during which Bledsoe is inoperative is as predictable for him as it is for Kyle Lowry. In their respective Game 3s, Bledsoe scored nine points and Lowry seven. Lowry’s 2-for-10 night wasted a strong performance from Kawhi Leonard, as Lowry’s backup, Fred VanVleet, couldn’t pick up the slack. But Hill made sure Giannis’s MVP-affirming night wasn’t in vain.

Winner: Jaylen Brown

So, Jaylen Brown has a new hobby:

This is the second time Brown has yammed on Giannis this series, which is something that usually only happens in reverse. But athletic plays like these have become more common at the tail end of Brown’s third NBA season. As his young J-and-J counterpart, Jayson Tatum, has regressed in his sophomore season, Brown has emerged. It no longer seems like that hot of a take to consider Brown the better of the two, though that’s as much a result of his steps forward as Tatum’s steps back:

Tatum finished Game 3 with a higher point total (20) than Brown’s 18, but took more shots to get there. The former is normally a capable 3-point shooter (he went 0-for-5 in Game 3), but his predilection for long 2s often negates his more efficient shot attempts, especially on nights the 3s aren’t falling. Brown’s game is more mature these days, taking the shots Boston, and the NBA in general, values more. He hit three 3s on Friday, and otherwise attacked driving lanes and finished well at the bucket. Brown’s assertion at the rim on both ends is necessary for keeping Boston, who lives and dies by the perimeter, in this series.