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NBA playoffs: These three-point Bucks take aim at beating Raptors

NBA playoffs: These three-point Bucks take aim at beating Raptors
Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe reacts after making a three-point shot during a playoff game against the Celtics. (Morry Gash / Associated Press)

David Gruber, a personal injury attorney, is a basketball junkie. He played in college at Delaware. His son, Steven, played at Brown. Gruber spent plenty of summer days inside sweaty gyms watching AAU games. The promotional T-shirts for Gruber’s law firm are replicas of the jersey he wore in his first over-30 recreation league.

This year, they handed out more than 50,000 shirts. He’s one of the most beloved people in town. His “One call … that’s all” catchphrase is on billboards, radio commercials and television ads.

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Gruber is everywhere in Milwaukee. He’s courtside at Bucks games. And every time his favorite team makes a three-point shot on the home court, he makes a donation to the Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer Fund.

Five years ago when this started, the Bucks were allergic to three-pointers, and the donations were modest. Last season, the Bucks began firing shirts with Gruber’s logo into the crowd after each made triple.

And now, with the Bucks on the eve of an Eastern Conference finals appearance?

“Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching,” Gruber said.

Thanks to an emphasis on rewiring the offense to become more three-point oriented, the Bucks have gone from one of the league’s least willing three-point-shooting teams to one of the most willing to launch. “Let it fly” is a rallying cry and the name of the team’s anthem.

And the team had to order more shirts to throw into the crowd.

It’s why Gruber, who donated $80,000 to the MACC Fund in the first three seasons of his partnership with the Bucks, cut a check for $40,000 after this season.

“We can probably blame Steph Curry for this,” he said.

Add Bucks general manager Jon Horst and coach Mike Budenholzer to that list.

After the team fired Jason Kidd midway through last season, Horst was committed to finding a new coach who would push his team behind the three-point line and allow it to evolve into a top-line NBA offense.

Horst decided on Budenholzer, the former San Antonio Spurs assistant and Atlanta Hawks coach, and from day one, Budenholzer tried to install a greener light than Kidd ever allowed.

Ask Kidd about bad three-pointers? He’ll have answers. But ask Budenholzer?

“I’m not sure there is one,” he said before relenting a little. “I guess we don’t want to take contested shots in general, so a contested, guarded three” would be a bad one. “After that, if we’re open, we want to let it fly. …

“Any time we’re open from three, it’s a good shot in my mind.”

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This season the Bucks made 1,105 three-pointers. In All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo’s first two seasons, Milwaukee made 1,093 shots from deep. Combined.

“The game plan Coach Bud brought to the team definitely has helped everybody be great,” Antetokounmpo said. “And that’s one of the things that he told me the first time he met me. ‘You can be good. We know that. But how can you make your teammates be effective?”’

Slowing Milwaukee’s three-point attack will be a top priority for Toronto and Kawhi Leonard. The Raptors have done a good job defending at the arc all season, but the Bucks’ system provides different challenges.

Most teams don’t have a downhill force like Antetokounmpo, the likely most valuable player. If he can get past his initial defender — and he usually can — Antetokounmpo draws attention in the paint and can kick the ball out to four other players who are ready to fire.

“We’ve definitely embraced it,” guard Malcolm Brogdon said. “Coming off the last few years where there was some freedom, there was not enough structure. Guys didn’t have the confidence to shoot the ball, the confidence to shoot whenever they were open. Bud’s given us that — and freedom and a little bit of structure. It’s the perfect balance.”

Brogdon said that the “misses matter” almost as much as the makes. Teams need to respect the Bucks beyond the arc to open driving lanes for Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe and the rest of the team’s attackers.

It’s become the Bucks’ culture. Hot zones beyond the arc are boxed in on the team’s practice court. As players filed into the locker room Tuesday, starting center Brook Lopez bounced from spot to spot on the court firing threes.

“If you tell guys to shoot, they’re usually pretty happy,” Budenholzer said. “It hasn’t been that hard of a sell.”

Everyone is on board — even Gruber, the man who pays for every make.

“I say to [my wife] Nancy, ‘I hope somebody is in the office working,’” Gruber said with a laugh. “Some of these games, where it’s deep in the double digits, I say, ‘We better get back to the office. This is an expensive one.’”

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