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Nikola Vucevic Drops 35 as Magic Stun Giannis, Bucks in Game 1 Upset

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistAugust 18, 2020

Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) passes the ball to forward Gary Clark (12) in front of Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez (11) during the first half of Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP)
Kim Klement/Associated Press

Most expected the Milwaukee Bucks to skate through the first round without breaking a sweat.

The Orlando Magic had other plans.

Nikola Vucevic turned in a dominant 35-point, 14-rebound outing and Markelle Fultz added 15 points as the Magic earned a 122-110 victory in Game 1 of their first-round series.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 31 points, 17 rebounds and seven assists, but the Bucks' effort was undone by the failures of the supporting cast. Khris Middleton finished with just 14 points on 4-of-12 shooting, and Brook Lopez had five points and four boards while getting cooked by Vucevic on the other end.

Notable Stats

Magic

C Nikola Vucevic: 35 points (15-24 FG, 5-8 3PT), 14 rebounds, 4 assists

G Markelle Fultz: 15 points (6-11 FG, 1-4 3PT), 6 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 block

G Terrence Ross: 18 points (7-13 FG, 0-3 3PT), 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal

Bucks

F Giannis Antetokounmpo: 31 points (12-25 FG, 3-7 3PT), 17 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 steal

F Khris Middleton: 14 points (4-12 FG, 2-6 3PT), 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, 1 block

G Eric Bledsoe: 15 points (5-11 FG, 1-5 3PT), 5 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block

Markelle Fultz, Feel-Good Story of the Playoffs

Mike Schmitz @Mike_Schmitz

This is such an encouraging sign for Markelle Fultz's future. When he eventually starts punishing teams for going under PnR with 3s & forces them into drops, he'll be a really tough cover given his size, craft, mid-range game. Great half for the #1 pick. https://t.co/ALGa9FqlWj https://t.co/k0CoInRwLg

Look through the recent history of the NBA—you'll have a hard time finding someone more unfairly treated than Markelle Fultz. His year-and-a-half odyssey in Philadelphia was full of starts and stops, filled with accusations he could not take the mental rigors of playing in the NBA all while dealing with a mysterious shoulder injury.

While Fultz was eventually diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a nerve disorder that impacted his ability to shoot a basketball, the well was so deeply poisoned the Sixers had to ship him off to Orlando for Jonathon Simmons and a low first-round pick.

Simmons is no longer in the NBA. The pick will be No. 21 in this year's draft, which is widely viewed as one of the weakest of the last 20 years.

Fultz, meanwhile, found an organization willing to give him patience and is beginning to thrive in Orlando. While it's unlikely he'll ever reach the potential that made him a No. 1 overall pick, Fultz is clearly figuring things out. He's devastating off the dribble, equipped with one of the best first steps in the league, and is starting to get comfortable shooting from distance, even if he's not particularly good at it yet. 

The Magic would be smart to lock him up to a rookie extension this offseason before he reaches a different level in 2020-21.

Mike Budenholzer Needs to Shorten Rotations—and Fast

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

31 and 17 from Giannis and the Bucks still lost Game 1 😲 https://t.co/8gk07gpv5Q

The Bucks aren't in any real danger here. They'll probably rampage through the next four games in a gentleman's sweep, reclaiming their status as the East's best team in the process.

At greater issue—and something that could cost the Bucks some games against better opponents—is coach Mike Budenholzer essentially sticking to his regular-season rotation. Giannis played 34 minutes, but no other Bucks player topped more than 31. There is something to be said about preserving bodies during the regular season, and the Magic don't pose a serious threat to knock the Bucks out in Round 1.

However, this is not a new issue. Giannis played only 34.3 minutes per game during the 2019 postseason, not even up two minutes from his regular-season average.

Giannis is 25 years old and the world's best player. He should be in the 37-38-minute range and even touch 40 in close games. While that may put him at something less than peak freshness in some moments, a 95 percent version of Giannis is better than anything Milwaukee can offer in those critical minutes he's off the floor.

Throwing Marvin Williams out there just to get fried on both ends of the floor isn't helping the Bucks. It's only decreasing their margin of error.