The Milwaukee Bucks are one win away from the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs following their 121-106 Game 4 victory over the Orlando Magic on Monday.
It's the third straight win for the Bucks after a surprising upset in Game 1. Milwaukee has won every game in the series by at least 11 points since as a short-handed Orlando team continues to struggle to keep pace on offense.
Both Aaron Gordon (hamstring) and Michael Carter-Williams (left foot) were held out again Monday, forcing the Magic to continue running their offense more through center Nikola Vucevic and guard Markelle Fultz.
After Saturday's 121-107 Game 3 loss, Orlando coach Steve Clifford called out his team's lack of aggressiveness in attempting to rise to the level of its competition. By Monday, the message hadn't made a difference as the Magic fell to 3-1 in the series and reached the brink of elimination.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, PF, Milwaukee Bucks: 31 points, 15 rebounds, 8 assists
Khris Middleton, SF, Milwaukee Bucks: 21 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists
Nikola Vucevic, C, Orlando Magic: 31 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists
Markelle Fultz, PG, Orlando Magic: 15 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds
Fultz steps up, Fournier searches for shot
On the day after the Philadelphia 76ers were bounced from the NBA Playoffs, Markelle Fultz poured salt in the wound by nearly taking down the Bucks in Game 4 with the type of playmaking and secondary scoring the Sixers desperately needed against Boston.
The former No. 1 overall pick was sent to the Magic last February after a shoulder injury and lost jump shot made him virtually unplayable in Philly. On Monday he was the Player of the Game for Orlando.
That became even more necessary for the Magic to have any success as shooting guard Evan Fournier continued his slump from the field.
Fournier hit just four of his 10 field goal attempts, making the Magic’s run even more impressive. After averaging 18.5 points this season, the veteran has scored 13 points or fewer in each game of the series. Game 4 provided a slight improvement, but not enough to make a difference against a Bucks team that spent most of the game daring him to shoot.
Instead, it was Fultz and Nikola Vucevic helping keep Orlando alive for the majority of the game. As Fultz continues his development in the playoffs, Monday could wind up a small sample of what’s to come in his career—and another reminder of what Philadelphia gave up on.
Bucks forced to keep battling
In all likelihood, the Bucks are going to advance past the Magic and maybe a few more teams after them.
As the No. 1 seed in the East, Milwaukee has large expectations that only a title can satisfy. The Magic are showing it how they’ll have to play on every possession in order to get there.
Every time the Bucks threatened to blow past Orlando on Monday, the Magic came roaring back. Even after a 17-5 run opened up the fourth quarter, Orlando came back and quickly made it a three-possession game, forcing the Bucks to sub a few starters back in earlier than they would’ve liked.
Milwaukee is no doubt talented enough to win a championship in 2020, but there are questions worth asking about the team playing to its potential for a full game.
A regular season where the Bucks blew out a number of teams may not have helped as Milwaukee averaged 10 more points than its opponents. No one is resting their starters down the stretch in the playoffs, however, and a Bucks team that's built to win now can't afford to either.
Against a relatively cold-shooting Orlando team (40.3 percent from the field in Games 2-4), Milwaukee's style of play has only cost them one game. That may have been the only lesson the team needed, but it hasn't meant fewer closer calls than necessary.
Game 5 between Orlando and Milwaukee is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Aug. 26, on NBATV.