MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Bucks’ dream run through the postseason has been more of a nightmare for Eric Bledsoe.
The point guard has been a non-factor against the Toronto Raptors during the Eastern Conference finals, averaging 8.3 points on 24.4% shooting and 10.5% shooting from 3-point range.
His struggles were especially noticeable Tuesday in Milwaukee’s 120-102 loss at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, finishing with just five points on 2-for-7 shooting with a pair of misses from distance while playing only 20 minutes, the lowest total of any of Milwaukee’s five starters.
The Bucks have come to expect more from Bledsoe, who averaged 15.9 points on 48.4% shooting in 78 regular-season contests and performed so well on the other end of the court that he was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive team Wednesday afternoon.
The playoffs, though, have been another story entirely. He’s hit 41% of his shots and only 22.6% of his 3-point attempts while playing an average of 27.6 minutes per game, second-fewest among Milwaukee’s first unit.
But as the Bucks returned to Milwaukee for Game 5 of the best-of-seven series, his teammates wanted Bledsoe to know they still had complete faith in him.
“We wouldn’t be here without him,” Pat Connaughton told reporters after the loss left the series tied. “Everybody gets frustrated with themselves when they are not playing well because they feel like they are letting the team down. He wants to play well for his teammates.”
His teammates need to step up their games, too, if they want to avoid falling behind in a playoff series for the second time this postseason. The Bucks shot 48% in their Game 3 loss, but that number was skewed somewhat by Khris Middleton’s 11-for-15 outing.
Giannis Antetokoumpo started off sharp but cooled off quickly, finishing with 25 points on 9-for-17 shooting while Malcolm Brogdon made only 2 of 11 shots to finish with four points and Nikola Mirotic missed six of eight 3-point attempts and connected on four of six attempts overall to finish with 11.
Milwaukee looked even more lethargic on the defensive end as Toronto connected at a 47% clip with Kawhi Leonard, Marc Gasol, Kyle Lowry and Norm Powell knocking down six shots each and Segre Ibaka hitting seven.
“Individually, we’ve got to be better,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “This league is hard. There’s a lot of great individual offensive players, guys that are effective and can do things, and we’ve got to just be significantly better individually. Everybody’s got to kind of take a lot of pride in their individual defense.
“We’ve done that all year. We’ve got to really call on our individual defense, our individual pride, to be significantly better, and that’s where it always start. That’s at the top of the list.”
The loss marked just the second time Milwaukee has lost back-to-back games this season and just the third time it has fallen twice to the same team. Losing a third straight game to the Raptors would not only leave a smudge on a remarkable season, it also would make an early end to that season far more likely.
The Bucks say they’ll be ready to go Thursday night.
“They outworked us, outplayed us, moved the ball very well, forced us into some terrible shots offensively, just took us out of the game today,” backup guard George Hill said. “But we’re a good enough team to bounce back; we’ll figure it out. Every guy in this locker room is super competitive and we’ll look in the mirror and figure it out ourselves.”