MILWAUKEE — Eric Bledsoe’s return to the NBA postseason, not to mention his first career playoff start, left plenty of room for improvement.
The Milwaukee Bucks point guard hadn’t appeared in the postseason since 2013, when he was with the Los Angeles Clippers. Getting back to the playoffs was the primary reason he was unhappy during his time in Phoenix, leading to his trade to Milwaukee early in the season.
On Sunday, Bledsoe never got into any kind of rhythm. He hit just 4 of 12 shots — going 0-for-2 from 3-point range — to finish with nine points in Milwaukee’s 113-107 overtime loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference best-of-seven series.
When the teams resume their first-round series tonight at TD Garden in Boston, getting Bledsoe on track will be crucial if the Bucks want to avoid returning to the Bradley Center in an 0-2 hole.
“It was a lot of fun out there for it being my first time (starting),” Bledsoe said of Sunday’s game. “My teammates had my back. Even though I didn’t play well, I thought I did a great job on the defensive end — aside from that last play in regulation.”
On that play, Bledsoe had the Celtics’ Terry Rozier one-on-one outside the 3-point arc with 6.1 seconds left. Rozier made a move to drive, but stunted, crossed over and stepped back for a 3-pointer that put the Celtics ahead by three with 0.5 seconds left.
Khris Middleton momentarily saved the Bucks with a desperation 3-pointer off the inbound pass from Giannis Antetokounmpo that sailed in as time expired, sending the game to overtime.
“I was trying to play the stunt and (Rozier) did a great job of reading it,” Bledsoe said. “Khris had my back so that’s what it’s all about.”
For Bledsoe to be more effective in Game 2, he will need to be better when it comes to fouls. A physical defender by nature, he spent much of Sunday’s game in foul trouble and eventually fouled out. Bledsoe played just five minutes of the third period, and picked up two fouls during a brutal two-minute stretch in the fourth quarter.
“I think the foul trouble kept it to bursts of minutes instead of longer stretches,” Bucks coach Joe Prunty said. “We need (Bledsoe) to be aggressive. … It’s more the aggressiveness to get in the paint and make plays, not only for himself but others as well. I want to see that defensively.
“He’s kind of the head of our snake in terms of the pressure he can put on our opponents, so we’re going to need to see some of that, too.”
Part of Bledsoe’s appeal to the Bucks was that physical nature, so it’s up to him to find the right balance.
“Obviously I have to stop fouling but I have to let the player know I’m here at the same time,” Bledsoe said. “They did a great job of playing physical as well.”
The Celtics’ physicality was certainly a factor in the Bucks’ 20 turnovers, including five by Bledsoe. The Bucks still shot 48.2 percent from the field (40-for-83), making 8 of 21 3-pointers.
Those numbers, though, are a little misleading. Antetokounmpo and Middleton combined for 66 points on 23 of 40 shooting with Middleton knocking down five 3-pointers. Take those points, and 16 provided by from Malcolm Brogdon out of the equation, and the Bucks combined to shoot 7-for-17 from the floor.
Cleaning up the turnovers should lead to more scoring opportunities for everyone.
“We just have to be more aggressive attacking the paint,” Bledsoe said. “It’s basketball, you’re going to turn the ball over. We still had numerous chances to win the game.”
Defensively, the Bucks held the Celtics to 41.5 percent shooting but the hosts hit 11 of 26 from distance and got many of those off second-chance points. Boston outrebounded Milwaukee 45-42.
“I thought we did a good job,” Bledsoe said. “We had a couple of lapses when we didn’t get rebounds and they got some big offensive rebounds but we need them guys to keep playing the way they’re playing here.
“It (was) Game 1. We’re going to get into it.”