The inevitable began to set in late in the third quarter and all of the fourth quarter.
Simply put, the Milwaukee Bucks dominated their way to a 127-104 victory Monday night over the Detroit Pistons, closing out a 4-0 sweep of their first-round NBA playoff series.
Giannis Antetokounmpo asserted himself for 41 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots. He made 15 of 20 free throws, taking advantage of Detroit’s “get physical” defensive strategy, and got more than enough help.
Khris Middleton chipped in 18 points, Eric Bledsoe added 16 and Sterling Brown contributed 13 rebounds to a massive second-half effort on the boards. Milwaukee outrebounded Detroit, 31-12, in the second half.
Nikola Mirotic added 12 points, including three 3-pointers, and Brook Lopez led the defense with five blocks.
Outmanned so badly, the Pistons appeared to settle on a strategy to be as physical as possible every time the Bucks got near the basket and hope officials only called about half of them. The whistles obliged, sending the Bucks to the foul line an astonishing 41 times to just 12 for the Pistons.
That strategy worked in the first half, with the Bucks helping out by missing nine of 23 free throws. Detroit held a 62-56 lead at the intermission, but the Pistons had to know they were on borrowed time.
Reality arrived in the third quarter. Milwaukee kept attacking the basket, the Pistons kept attacking limbs. But this time, the free throws fell.
The Bucks made their first 10 free throws and 13 of 14 for the period. Worse. four of the gree throws came as part of 3-point plays, and another three came when Khris Middleton drew a foul outside the arc.
The Bucks closed the period with a 17-3 run to lead, 95-85, entering the fourth. When the Bucks defense dominated in the final period, holding the Pistons scoreless from the 10:22 mark to the 5:04 mark, a 100-90 lead ballooned to 115-90. It reached 123-92, before Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer cleared his bench.
Detroit’s active defense kept the Bucks off the 3-point line, but that opened up drives that either scored or earned free throws.
The Pistons put on a game effort. Reggie Jackson scored 26 points, but only six after the half. Blake Griffin scored 22, basically playing the final two games on one leg because of a bad left knee that kept him out of Games 1 and 2. He fouled out with just over seven minutes left, well after reality had already set in. Andre Drummond chipped in 15 points and 12 rebounds
The Bucks scored a playoff series win for the first time since 2001 when they went to the Eastern Conference finals.
This team hopes to do even more. Having finished with the league’s best record at 60-22, they have the home-court advantage.
The next round gets tougher, as the Boston Celtics come in off their own sweep of the Indiana Pacers. The Bucks hope to have guard Malcolm Brogdon back at some point i th eplayoffs, with the second round having been mentioned most. The series against the Celtics won’t start until either the weekend of next Monday.