Nikola Vucevic scored a career-high playoff 35 points and 14 rebounds, and the Orlando Magic surprised the 122-110 seeded Bucks in the Disney World bubble without league fans on Tuesday.
Terrence Ross scored 18 points, Gary Clark added 15 and DJ Augustin had 11 points and 11 assists for eighth-seeded Magic, who were 14-point underdogs.
Orlando took a 1-0 lead in the best of seven series, an intriguing result considering the Bucks can’t count on home ground advantage in this pandemic-altered playoffs.
“We don’t care what other people have to say,” Vucevic said. “We are focusing on ourselves and we went out and played a great game on both sides of the pitch.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 31 points, 17 rebounds and seven assists for Milwaukee. Last season’s MVP was held scoreless on the pitch for the last 11 minutes and appeared to get more frustrated as the fourth quarter progressed.
“You really have to be prepared for what they’re doing,” Vucevic said. “Especially us against a team like Milwaukee where we have to make sure we know their stuff and we are ready for anything. Tonight we were definitely on top. We did a good job executing the game plan. ”
The Bucks entered the postseason as favorites to win the NBA title. But they went 3-5 in bubble ranking matches, and that slow play continued into the postseason.
George Hill said the Bucks need to do some “soul searching.”
Antetokounmpo didn’t go that far, claiming the Bucks’ energy level was good, but they needed to do more shots. Milwaukee was 43 percent from the field and 14 of 42 from 3 points.
“There is no magic wand to point and things will change,” Antetokounmpo said. “We have to go out, play hard, play even harder, play together and have fun.”
Milwaukee swept the season streak against Orlando, winning four games averaging 17 points, but struggled with the Magic’s stingy defense, which caused 16 turnovers and repeatedly blocked the lane, forcing Antetokounmpo to stand content with jumping shots.
The Bucks’ frustration was evident when center Brook Lopez stomped on a chair – then kicked it – in the bench area during a timeout.
“Obviously our main goal was to try to make it difficult for Giannis, to protect the painting,” Vucevic said. “We did this as a team. Gary (Clark) did a great job fighting him and we were able to help him.
Magic drove most of the game.
Orlando used an early 15-2 run to forge a 51-33 lead halfway through the second quarter behind Vucevic’s 16 points.
Milwaukee had several runs in the second half, but the Magic had an answer every time.
Vucevic had 14 points in the third quarter, scoring low on the post against smaller defenders and coming out to reverse 3s against taller men as the Magic led a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter.
The Bucks reduced the lead to six in the fourth, but Ross managed a dunk and a tough cutoff stoppage to the basket and Augustin and Vucevic added 3s to reduce the lead to 14. Evan Fournier, who went scoreless for three quarters, delivered the punch with three 3 points in the last five minutes.
The challenge for the Magic will be to maintain their intensity. A year ago, they beat eventual NBA Champion Raptors to kick off their opening series, but lost the next four.
“We had a huge victory,” said Vucevic. “Again, it’s just a game. We must move forward. ”
Magic: played without the guards Aaron Gordon (left hamstrings stretched) and Michael Carter-Williams (left foot stretched). Gordon is expected to return before Carter-Williams.
Bucks: Antetokoumpo played his first game in a week. He was suspended for the final standings game for hitting Washington’s Moe Wagner in Milwaukee’s Aug. 11 win over the Wizards.
Vucevic finished 15 out of 24 in the field, including 5 out of 8 in 3 points. He also had four assists.
“He played out of his mind,” Antetokounmpo said.
“He was just awesome,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said. “He played really well here. … He made a big play after a big play today. But I am not surprised. Because his preparation for this playoff series, and I think it will show, he’s on top.
TALKING ABOUT BUBBLES
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer doesn’t believe playing in the bubble has an impact on his team.
“It’s always great to play in front of your fans and feed off a little bit of their energy, but we’ve all been here in the bubble for a while, so I think everyone should understand how to maintain a race and prevent races. Budenholzer told me.
The series resumes Thursday evening.