Bucks reassure Bledsoe as shooting woes linger

TORONTO -- The extra shots were supposed to help.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton were the last people on the Scotiabank Arena court at morning shootaround Tuesday. The trio evaded the throng of journalists that had descended at center court, and instead shot extra free throws and put up a few more 3-pointers.

After shooting a combined 23 percent in Game 3, the three players were determined to play better than they had Sunday, and that meant squeezing in some extra repetitions.

Some improvements were made -- Antetokounmpo finished with 25 points, 13 more than he had in Game 3 -- but it wasn't enough. The Milwaukee Bucks dropped Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals to the Toronto Raptors 120-102, only the second time this season they have lost back-to-back games.

The series now heads back to Milwaukee tied at two games apiece.

"We just came out flat in the third quarter," Antetokounmpo said. "It's something we can get better at -- something we can fix."

The Bucks were down by just one point at the half, but then the game quickly unraveled for Milwaukee.

The shooting issues that have plagued Bledsoe all postseason continued in Game 4. Through the first two rounds of the playoffs this year, Bledsoe averaged 16 points. Against the Raptors in the conference finals, though, he is averaging 8.3 points.

"For Bled, it's just making sure he understands we wouldn't be here without him," Pat Connaughton told ESPN. "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."

Bledsoe finished with only five points on 2-of-7 shooting. He was 0-for-2 from 3-point range and played only 20 minutes, five less than any other starter. He hustled out of the locker room before most of his teammates had even begun showering. On his way to the bus, he shrugged off questions and assured bystanders he would be all right.

The Bucks' system is built to withstand an individual player's shooting slump, but Bledsoe is frustrated with just how long he has struggled to find the basket. According to Second Spectrum tracking, Bledsoe is shooting just 27 percent on his jump shots this postseason, the worst among all players with at least 50 attempts.

"I tell him just forget about it," Middleton told ESPN. "That's the only way you can play better, is if you stop thinking about it so much."

Malcolm Brogdon wobbled, too. He shot just 2-of-11 and finished with four points. Before Tuesday, Brogdon hadn't scored fewer than 14 points all series.

"A plethora of things went wrong," Connaughton said. "We weren't able to withstand adversity the way we normally do."

The Bucks' locker room after the game was eerily silent. Players didn't speak to one another -- not even in a whisper. The loudest sound was the whirring ceiling fan and Antetokounmpo's cellphone alarm notifying him it was time to take off his ice bags.

"The series is two to two," Middleton said. "It's not the end of the world. I know Game 5 is going to be a dog fight."