The Milwaukee Bucks won their first playoff series since 2001 on Monday, and the breakthrough was mostly greeted by yawns.

Ironically, Giannis Antetokounmpo, perhaps the NBA’s most exciting player, was responsible for the basketball world’s deep feeling of anticlimax. The sixth-year forward was simply too talented, too strong and too consistent during four straight blowouts of the Detroit Pistons. Antetokounmpo’s closing effort was nothing short of MVP caliber: Taking charge of a tight game at halftime, he barreled to the hoop for 20 free throw attempts and tallied a playoff career-high 41 points.

For Milwaukee, the 127-104 victory clinched the sweep and ended an 18-year run of mediocrity. Since last advancing in the playoffs, the Bucks have employed 10 coaches, suffered through 10 losing seasons and made nine lottery trips. Not that anyone outside Wisconsin seemed to care, given that the Pistons were an overmatched eighth seed whose star, Blake Griffin, was severely limited by a knee injury.

The tepid reaction can also be attributed to a desire to get on with the show, as a much juicier story awaits. After losing to the Boston Celtics last year, Milwaukee now gets its rematch. The Bucks, under new coach Mike Budenholzer, have upgraded Antetokounmpo’s supporting cast and offensive system. The Celtics, meanwhile, welcome back Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, who both missed the 2018 postseason due to injuries.

The two teams are well-coached and well-balanced, but they stand in striking contrast in multiple areas. Milwaukee has displayed better chemistry and consistency all season, while Boston enjoys a healthy experience advantage and a mental edge after last year’s seven-game first-round series. The Bucks knocked out the Pistons with the help of the top-ranked offense in the playoffs, while the Celtics swept the Indiana Pacers thanks to the league’s top-ranked defense. Even their franchise players, both game-changing offensive forces, exist as opposites: Antetokounmpo pummels the basket but struggles as a 3-point shooter, while Irving is comfortable pulling up from beyond the arc but rarely goes above the rim.

Milwaukee will test Boston’s defense in ways Indiana could never dream. Midway through last year’s playoff series, Celtics Coach Brad Stevens said Antetokounmpo was “impossible to guard.” The task has only gotten more difficult, now that Milwaukee’s centerpiece is fresh thanks to careful minutes management and flanked by veteran floor-spacers Brook Lopez, Nikola Mirotic and Ersan Ilyasova.

On the other end, the Bucks are counting on Bledsoe to rebound from his poor showing in last year’s playoffs. The 29-year-old guard was clearly overwhelmed by the pressure, and his series was derailed by an ongoing beef with Celtics guard Terry Rozier.


RAPTORS 115, MAGIC 96: Kawhi Leonard scored 27 points, Pascal Siakam added 24 and Toronto used another stifling defensive effort to beat visiting Orlando, winning their first-round playoff series in five games.

Kyle Lowry scored 14 points as the Raptors finished off the Magic with ease, bouncing back from a Game 1 defeat to win by double-digits in three of the next four. Toronto led by as many as 37 in the clincher, their biggest-ever margin in a playoff game.

It’s the fourth straight year the Raptors have reached the second round.

Leonard made 8 of 11 shots, including 5 of 5 from 3-point range, as the Raptors jumped on Orlando early and never trailed. Leonard also made all six of his free throws. He checked out to cheers of “MVP, MVP” with 8:05 to play and Toronto up 105-75.

76ERS 120, NETS 100: Ben Simmons thumped his chest after a big dunk , Joel Embiid pointed toward an overmatched defender on a slam of his own, and Philadelphia flexed its offensive muscle from the opening tip to beat Brooklyn and close out their Eastern Conference playoff series in five games, in Philadelphia.

Up next, a second round series against the Toronto Raptors, who dropped their playoff opener before winning four straight against Orlando — the same thing the Sixers did to Brooklyn.

Any late arrivals missed the defining moments of the game from a jovial Sixers team that enjoyed toying with the sickly Nets.

The Sixers stunned the Nets with a 14-0 run in front of the loudest and rowdiest packed house of the season.

Embiid again shook off a bad left knee and had six points and five rebounds in the first two minutes to chants of “MVP!” The Nets later trailed 20-2, and Simmons put an exclamation point on the stunning first quarter when he drove the paint and used a right-handed jam to make it 32-12 — with a thump of his chest for emphasis.

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