The Milwaukee Bucks have advanced to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs thanks to their 118-104 victory over the Orlando Magic on Saturday.
Game 5 was a continuation of Milwaukee's dominance since its shocking 122-110 loss in the series opener. The Bucks entered Saturday's game having outscored Orlando by an average of 14.7 points per game in their previous three wins.
Awaiting the Bucks in the second round are the Miami Heat, who took two of three games from the NBA's best team during the regular season. The Heat swept the Indiana Pacers in their first-round series.
The Magic did make things interesting in the fourth quarter, cutting the deficit to 96-93 after trailing by as many as 21 points. The Bucks responded with an 9-0 run that ended any remaining drama to the game.
Notable Player Stats
- Giannis Antetokounmpo: 28 PTS (11-of-17 FG), 17 REB, 3 AST
- Khris Middleton: 21 PTS (7-of-16 FG), 10 REB, 7 AST
- Brook Lopez: 16 PTS (7-of-12 FG), 7 REB
- Nikola Vucevic: 22 PTS (9-of-25 FG), 15 REB, 5 AST
- Evan Fournier: 18 PTS (5-of-12 FG), 4 REB, 3 AST
- D.J. Augustin: 15 PTS (5-of-12 FG), 6 REB, 2 AST
Middleton's Breakout Good Sign for Bucks
Even as the Bucks were steamrolling Orlando in this series, Khris Middleton was still struggling to find a rhythm on offense. The two-time All-Star was shooting 33.9 percent overall (37.5 percent from three) and averaging 13.5 points in the first four games.
Middleton nearly surpassed that point total in the first half when he dropped 11 on 4-of-8 shooting. The Bucks need him to perform at a high level in these playoffs if they hope to make a deep run.
Antetokounmpo has proven he's going to play at an MVP level regardless of who is on the opposing team. He had no problems attacking the basket against Orlando's defense in Saturday's closeout game.
The Bucks signed Middleton to a five-year, $178 million extension last summer. He lived up to that billing during the regular season with his second straight All-Star appearance, but the postseason will be the barometer by which he is judged because of where the franchise stands in the Eastern Conference hierarchy.
Middleton wasn't bad in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Toronto Raptors last year, averaging 13.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists with a 37.5 three-point percentage. The problem is he scored 12 points or less in four of the six games.
The Heat will provide a much more difficult challenge for the Bucks, so getting Middleton on track is a welcome sight in their quest to win an NBA championship.
Magic's Frustrating Season Ends in Disappointment
Coming into the 2019-20 season, expectations were reasonably high for the Magic. They were coming off a surprising 42 wins last year and their first postseason appearance since 2011-12.
Sam Smith of NBA.com predicted Orlando would be the No. 8 seed in the East but sounded bullish on its chances of climbing higher:
"If Markelle Fultz becomes the No. 1 pick again, watch out. This is the year Aaron Gordon breaks through. Really. No really. OK, maybe next year. But they're the most stable team in the conference among the others with an ascending Nikola Vucevic. If the exceptionally long-armed Mo Bamba and Jonathan Isaac develop they could reach beyond this spot."
Unfortunately, none of the things that had to come together for the Magic did.
Fultz stayed healthy all year and averaged 12.1 points per game, but his shot still looks unusual and limited him to a 26.7 three-point percentage during the regular season.
There are still moments during games when Fultz shows off the skill that made him the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft.
If he is able to translate those moments into full-game performances, the Magic will be on the right track.
Of course, the Magic were also at a disadvantage coming into the series without Mo Bamba due to complications after he was diagnosed with COVID-19, and Jonathan Isaac tore his ACL on Aug. 2 against the Sacramento Kings.
Aaron Gordon didn't play in Game 5 after leaving the NBA campus earlier in the week due to a hamstring injury and the social justice protests that were taking place, per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.
Having those players might not have been enough to close the talent gap on Milwaukee, but head coach Steve Clifford still had to piece together a roster against the best team in the NBA.
The Magic are in a difficult position right now without a lot of cap space. If they want to catch the Heat in the Southeast Division, they will need Fultz, Bamba, Isaac and Gordon to develop into the core of this roster and ease the burden on Nikola Vucevic's shoulders.
The Heat will play the Bucks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at a date and time to be determined.