MILWAUKEE — Those just hopping onto the Milwaukee Bucks' bandwagon might not realize from watching that Malcolm Brogdon is still working his way back from a foot injury that sidelined him for nearly two months.
The third-year point guard returned from a torn right plantar fascia tear in the fifth and final game of Milwaukee's second-round Eastern Conference playoff series with Boston and has been an integral member of the bench through the first two games of the East finals against Toronto, averaging 14.5 points on 52 percent shooting with 3.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists in 26 minutes.
Brogdon was averaging a career-high 15.6 points and 4.5 rebounds while dishing out 3.2 assists before the injury and was just the eighth player in NBA history to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from beyond the arc and 90 percent from the free throw line over the course of a season.
He started 64 games before suffering the injury early in a March 15 game at Miami. Since returning, he has come off the bench and will remain in that role Sunday when the series shifts to Toronto for Game 3, giving Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer another weapon in an already deep lineup.
Bringing him off the bench also helps Budenholzer manage Brogdon's minutes, allowing him to both exercise caution with the foot while keeping the 26-year-old fresh and most effective.
"We want to be sensible and logical in bringing him back off an injury and a significant period of time without playing," Budenholzer said. "Just keep him healthy, keep him feeling good everywhere — just his entire body, mentally, physically in a good place.
"He's going to do whatever is needed for the team to win, and his minutes, whatever it takes, we'll do. Wherever we need him, we'll put him. I think it's that time of year, and everybody understands that."
A versatile defender, Brogdon has spent significant time matched up against Raptors star forward Kawhi Leonard. Leonard has scored 31 points in each of the first two games but hit just 10 of 26 attempts in Game 1. Leonard hit 10 again in Game 2 but was limited to just 18 attempts.
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"He's a great athlete, but he's also very patient, very versatile, doesn't really have any weaknesses to his offensive game," Brogdon said of the three-time All Star and 2014 Finals MVP. "The key is to make him work to even get a catch, but then once you get a catch, be patient, because he's going to be patient, he's not going to force shots, and then just try to get a contest. He's so big and he's athletic and he shoots the ball well, especially in the mid-range, try to get a contest and push him off his spots."
Brogdon's ability was on full display Friday during a 37-second stretch late in the third as Toronto mounted its first and only rally of the night. Down 25 points at halftime, the Raptors trimmed the deficit to 13 after Fred VanVleet's running layup made it a 80-67 game with 3:31 remaining.
A turnover by Giannis Antetokounmpo gave the ball back to Toronto, but Kyle Lowry missed a 5-footer and with the Bucks in transition, Brogdon took a short pass from Antetokounmpo for a layup that was blocked by Serge Ibaka.
Brogdon grabbed his own rebound and stuffed it back in to put the Bucks up 15. After forcing Leonard into a turnover, Brogdon set up George Hill for an easy layup that drew a goaltending call on Ibaka.
Milwaukee forced another turnover on Toronto's next possession and Brogdon again found Hill, who drew contact from VanVleet and sank both free throws to make it a 19-point game.
In just 37 seconds, Brogdon scored two points, recorded two assists, a steal and a rebound — all but clinching Milwaukee's sixth consecutive victory and 10th in 11 contests this postseason.
"He's had a positive impact on both ends of the floor," Budenholzer said. "I guess you should never say exceeded expectations because we have such high expectations of everybody, but coming off the injury, he's done that. He's been really, really good, and you just don't expect that after a guy hasn't played for six weeks or more."