By Jacob Ahlmann, Special to OnMilwaukee   Published Apr 19, 2018 at 3:03 PM

The days leading up to the Milwaukee Bucks’ playoff series with the Boston Celtics provided fans with a feeling many lacked throughout the regular season: optimism. 

Despite the roller-coaster season Milwaukee endured, there was a sense throughout the fan base that the Bucks’ talent could overwhelm the shorthanded Celtics. But easy come, easy go. As easily as the frantic, almost-desperate optimism came with Milwaukee’s seemingly winnable first-round matchup, much of the rest of it was wiped away by the Bucks’ dramatic Game 1 loss and their comprehensive Game 2 defeat in Boston.

Now Milwaukee finds itself down, 0-2, in the series, a hole the franchise has never before been able to dig out of in the best-of-seven format. And if that wasn’t discouraging enough, it’s against a Celtics franchise that has never lost a playoff series when up 2-0.

So, yes, it does look bleak for Milwaukee to still pull of the upset. Statistically speaking, the Bucks went from a 43 percent chanceto win before the series to 16 percentafter going down, 0-2. 

And while it’s not hard to watch these games and point out several – and I mean several – major contributing factors to Milwaukee’s slow start to the series, I don’t want to let the optimism die quite yet for those who still want something to hang on to. I’ll let the bright, shining world of Twitter continue to play pragmatic, early-offseason general manager.

Instead, here are three things that need to change if the Milwaukee Bucks can pull off an improbable series win.

1. The contribution hierarchy returns to normal

There’s been an interesting debate regarding Milwaukee’s talent level this season, and opinions of it have ebbed and flowed throughout the year. Some local and national talking heads think the talent around Giannis Antetokounmpo is good, and some believe it’s mediocre at best. Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, there are some things that cannot continue to happen if Milwaukee wants to have a fighting chance.

Milwaukee’s backcourt cannot continue to get completely outmatched by Boston’s fourth-string point guard Terry Rozier and second-year emerging star Jaylen Brown. Not only has Eric Bledsoe missed 64 percent of his shots this series, but it looks like he’s been disinterested, even aloof. After Tuesday’s loss, he claimed to not know who Rozier was, despite the fact that Bledsoe has been completely roasted by his counterpart.

Tony Snell needs to attempt more than two three-pointers in two games, and he probably should make one. The puzzling case of Jabari Parker continues, as he’s been close to unplayable so far this series. Outside of Khris Middleton, Antetokounmpo is getting no help from his teammates.

If Milwaukee is able to get its contribution hierarchy back in sync Friday – and not have to rely on getting offensive movement, energy, and shot creation through reserve Shabazz Muhammad three possessions in a row – then there’s a chance it can compete in this series.

2. Energy and effort are applied to basketball

I’m sorry. I understand how cliche and overused this notion is, but it’s extremely applicable here. Milwaukee has looked flat and unenergetic to start the series, and the proof is there, statistically, visually and on record.

The Bucks are getting torched on the glass (that’s not new), gave up 20 second-chance points in Game 2, turned the ball over 35 times in two contests and, at times, have looked like they’re going through the motions of a December regular-season game. After the loss Tuesday night, even Giannis thought the performance was lackluster, saying "I think as a team we didn’t show up tonight."

Hopefully the crowd at the BMO Harris Bradley Center can boost the energy Friday night, and the Bucks do show up. 

3. The coaches make some tweaks

There are only so many things that can change when it comes to coaching at this point in the season. Whatever horrid defensive tendencies you’ve become accustomed to seeing from Milwaukee are going to be there until the end. The hope for schematic changes went out the door once fans saw that no real alterations were coming on the defensive side when Joe Prunty took over.

What can change, however, are lineup rotations. During a regular season that saw the likes of Sean Kilpatrick, Deandre Liggins, Gary Payton II and Brandon Jennings play significant minutes, it seems odd that the coaching staff still feels the need to utilize many players during the playoffs, when rotations typically shorten. Milwaukee’s starters have a plus-10.3 rating in the first two games, but they don’t see the floor together very often after the opening timeout. Some minor coaching adjustments could help a little; major ones could help a lot.

Game 3 in Milwaukee is at the BMO Harris Bradley Center at 8:30 p.m. (ESPN).