The Bucks rightly approached Game Two of their conference semifinal-round set-to against the Celtics with confidence. It didn’t matter that they were routed in the opener, with Al Horford, in particular, looking every bit like kryptonite to the Superman that was Giannis Antetokounmpo. As far as they were concerned, they remained the series favorites for reasons beyond their reliance on the leading Most Valuable Player candidate. Above all else, they boasted of cohesion that propelled an inside-out system and made them better as a collective — and ultimately superior to their opponents.

And so the Bucks approached yesterday with renewed purpose. Even with Horford again proving true to form and the other Celtics invariably ready to close out driving lanes, Antetokounmpo displayed an aggressive streak that was missing in Game One. True, he was far from perfect; he had no makes off three field-goal attempts in the first quarter. All the same, his exertions bore fruit. He drew foul after foul and wound up with eight charities in the same period. More importantly, he manufactured quality shots for teammates. In other words, he got the green and cream cooking in precisely the same manner they claimed the National Basketball Association’s best regular-season slate.

Indeed, Antetokounmpo set the tone from end to end. On offense, the Celtics’ conscious overloads that emanated from his increased productivity produced a bevy of uncontested attempts: not for nothing did the Bucks wind up with a franchise-record 20 three pointers on 47 tries. On defense, he anchored stifling coverage that limited the competition to 39.5% shooting from the field all told. Even noted crunchtime performer Kyrie Irving was held to single digits on an abhorrent four-of-18 clip. And when the battlesmoke cleared, he had 29, 10, and four to his name in an emphatic victory.

Admittedly, all the Bucks managed to do yesterday was take care of business. They simply met expectations in winning Game Two at the Fiserv Forum, and will still need to take at least one contest at the TD Garden to regain homecourt advantage. Nonetheless, it’s fair to argue that they’ve regained momentum and no small measure of validation in the aftermath. The Celtics continue to be legitimate threats to their aspirations, but they’re decidedly more ready, willing, and able to withstand the challenge from here on.


Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.