Aldridge: Beauty is in the (finger to the) eye of the beholder during NBA playoffs - bdsthanhhoavn.com

Aldridge: Beauty is in the (finger to the) eye of the beholder during NBA playoffs

MILWAUKEE — Michael Jordan’s greatest shot was The Shot, and there will be no arguing about this here.

Thirty-three years ago Saturday, Jordan rose up over Craig Ehlo and stayed up longer than Larry Nance and knocked in the series-winning jumper in Game 5 of the Chicago Bulls’ first-round series against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The final score was 101-100.

You can forget the defense-free regular season, when teams jack up 60 3s and put up 130 points on the regular and loud people with microphones and podcasts at the ready insist that this is what everyone who loves basketball wants to see. Not so fast. Playoff basketball is the best basketball, and the second round of the NBA postseason is better than the Finals, and there will also be no arguing about this here. There are moments of such grace and elegance in the playoffs, as with Jordan’s shot. But so much playoff basketball devolves rather than inspires. It is not for the squeamish. It is physical. It is scraping and clawing and bludgeoning.

And it is beautiful.

Saturday’s Game 3 between the Bucks and Celtics at Fiserv Forum was awful, wonderful basketball, with Milwaukee and Boston taking turns pounding on one another, until the very last second, when Al Horford, heroic in all ways at age 35, was a half-second late with a tip-in that would have tied the score. Bucks 103, Celtics 101.

There were so many missed shots, contested and uncontested. The winning team shot 40.4 percent from the floor. Before Celtics fans complain that Marcus Smart got fouled by Jrue Holiday going up for a 3 with 4.6 seconds left, consider that Jaylen Brown and Smart each missed wide-open 3-point attempts with a minute left that would have given Boston a four-point lead. Instead, Giannis Antetokounmpo scored from the midpost to put the Bucks back ahead with 44 seconds left. Brown then hit the bottom of the rim on a drive. At the other end, Jayson Tatum slapped at Holiday’s dribble, and the ball bounced off Tatum’s foot as he fell — and then bounced right back to Holiday, who put in a floater with 11.2 seconds left to make it 103-100.

There’s nothing like what happens in the postseason. Celtics big man Robert Williams got hit in the face twice. Milwaukee’s Wes Matthews Jr. took out Boston’s Derrick White going for a loose ball on the sideline in the third quarter as if White were a 5-10 split Matthews had to pick up to win the Lubbock Sports Open. (To be fair, Matthews was called for a loose-ball foul.)

“That’s my type of game,” Holiday said. “That’s how I like to play. It kind of shows the tougher side of people. It shows what you’re made of. I felt like ever since I’ve been playing in the playoffs, and gotten to the point where these are big games, and it’s going to be a mucked-up game, I love it. Especially as a defender and somebody who, during the playoffs, gets away with a little bit more, it makes men out of boys.”

The ugliness of games like these, though, only serves to highlight those who truly are great and rise to the occasion when the pressure is at its most suffocating. Isn’t that what we all want: to see the best players perform at their best under the harshest lights?

Antetokounmpo was that player Saturday. He bludgeoned any number of Celtics in the low post, the midpost, off dribble handoffs, direct posts and everywhere else, going for 42 points on 16-of-30 shooting to go with 12 rebounds and eight assists.

But Antetokounmpo’s first postseason series came in 2015, when he was 20 years old, against the Bulls. That didn’t go so well. He averaged 11.5 points in a six-game loss to Chicago. He shot 37 percent from the floor. His true shooting percentage in the series was .425, and his effective field goal percentage was .366. It has taken him a while to develop the force he now displays regularly in the playoffs — and especially, as was the case Saturday, following a poor performance the game before.

“It’s nobody that doesn’t have struggles that got here,” he said afterward. “If you don’t fail, you cannot be able to succeed. Failure is a part of success. You can take from the best player that played this game, MJ. He had struggles in the postseason early in his career. People beat him down. He had to get stronger. He kept saying it multiple times. We’ve seen it. And I believe in that. I believe that you’ve got to fail. You’ve got to face adversity in order to excel. And I believe in God. God puts you in position to be successful. He never makes mistakes. So, yeah, I’ve failed a lot of times in my career. But at the end of the day, I never stopped coming. I’m always going to come, no matter what the outcome’s going to be. The outcome’s not always going to be pretty.”

Boston will stay in this series and still has a great chance in it, because the Celtics also have so many people who’ve been in so many postseason battles. Saturday was Horford’s 131st career postseason game. Smart has been in 73.

“We’re prepared,” Smart said. “Al’s been playing the game for 15 years. You’ve got me, who’s on my eighth year. We know. We’ve got Jayson Tatum. We know what it takes. It takes a lot. You’ve got to match the other team’s physicality. You’re playing against the defending champs.”

Of course, some fans — some, I have to keep reminding myself, not all — see ulterior motives in every postseason call.

Boston fans: GIANNIS KNOCKS PEOPLE OVER ON EVERY PLAY! WE NEVER GET ANY CALLS!

(The Celtics shot 34 free throws Saturday to the Bucks’ 17.)

Milwaukee fans: GIANNIS GETS FOULED ON EVERY PLAY, AND THE REFS NEVER CALL IT BECAUSE HE’S IN A SMALL MARKET AND THEY HATE US!

(Antetokounmpo shot 12 free throws Saturday.)

You can find conspiracies in every potato chip, or you can just sit back and appreciate what the postseason brings out. Players who give multiple efforts, and fail, and keep at it. Teams that fall behind, as Boston did by 14 late in the third quarter, and keep competing. Horford, supposedly washed up when he went to Philly and Oklahoma City (just check my mentions when I said he could really help Philly if the Sixers used him properly), playing his heart out all season for the Celtics, and again Saturday. The Bucks, going up 2-1 without the injured Khris Middleton. The Celtics, essentially playing eight guys. Giannis, utterly fearless as he drove into the teeth of the Celtics’ defense, again and again.

“We’ve talked about it for a couple of years now, that we’ve got to be able to execute in the half court, we’ve got to be able to be efficient, find ways,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said afterward. “… Giannis has improved. I think he’s ready. We’re more ready for those moments now.”

Rejoice in ugly playoff basketball. It’s the very best basketball.


Related reading

King: Jayson Tatum’s struggles only adds to Celtics’ woes versus Bucks in Game 3
Weiss: Bucks’ win over Celtics comes down to controversial foul in Game 3: ‘Poor call, poor no-call’

(Photo of the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo shooting against the Celtics’ Al Horford: Stacy Revere / Getty Images)

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