Southeast Movement. While Monta Ellis shot fairly well from the field (10/19 fg, 22 pts, but an ugly 1/6 from the line) and Brandon Jennings backed up his pre-series chatter with a typically fearless Jennings kind of night (26 points, 20 shots, ample swag but only 2 ast), the Bucks' offense overall was little more than the guards improvising off the dribble for much of the night. Miami's perimeter defense ran the Bucks' shooters off the three point line, and the Bucks did next to nothing in the paint either (14/31 shooting inside 9 feet), despite Miami's lack of obvious rim protectors. The news wasn't an better on the other end, where they conceded a ridiculous 21/23 at the rim. Andrew Gruman reports:
"I thought they came out a little more focused (in the second half)," Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. "They came out with a little more purpose. We didn't move the ball like we did in the first half. Against a good team like Miami, when you don't do the things you need to do -- that's good solid ball movement, player movement -- when you don't do that, their defensive shell is pretty tight, they took advantage of that."
The Bucks' inability to create open shots was among the obvious red flags from game one, so let's start there. The Heat's aggressive rotations and closeouts often forced Ilyasova, J.J. Redick and Mike Dunleavy to put it on the floor, which isn't exactly playing to any of their strengths (it also drew a couple fouls on long jumpers, but the Heat can probably live with that). Ideally you'd like to see the Bucks continue to make extra passes, whether it's off the catch or after a quick dribble.
We also saw very little drive-and-kick game from Ellis and Jennings, who combined for a measly five assists (out of just 14 for the Bucks as a whole). Over at Bucks.com, Alex Boeder notes that those numbers are ominous ones for Milwaukee, which was just 2-18 in games where they totaled fewer than 20 dimes.
Defense first. So how do the Bucks get better shots? Attacking the Heat before they have a chance to set their defense is perhaps the most obvious answer, one the Bucks have leaned on heavily throughout the season. No rocket science here: without post scorers or a refined P&R combo, the Bucks don't do themselves any favor by playing a grind-it-out offensive game. But that style also requires forcing turnovers and clearing the defensive boards, two things the Bucks did fairly well in the first half but couldn't maintain after the intermission.
The Heat's ability to spread out the Bucks defensively was also a major factor in the Bucks going blockless for the first time all season, a symptom of Sanders' foul trouble and the Heat's ability to pull him away from the hoop. When the Heat go "big" (ie any combo with LeBron at SF), the Bucks likely need to do more to keep Sanders closer to the basket--in other words, if Chris Bosh wants to shoot corner threes, you'd really prefer Sanders isn't the guy guarding him.
The problem is that Bosh can attack Ersan Ilyasova (and any other Buck for that matter) in the post just as easily, and it should be noted Bosh hit only 28% from deep all year despite hitting an awesome 53% of his long twos. In fact, Bosh hit more than one three in a game just four times all year...but two of those have come against the Bucks. So Jim Boylan has a decision to make: keep Sanders on Bosh and dare him to keep shooting threes, or throw smalller guys at him and hope Bosh doesn't kill you with his face-up/post game (you know, the stuff that has made him an all-star). Not fun.
Monumental challenge. So how does a 38-win team like the Bucks keep sane going into a series against a team that has won 38 times in its last 40 games? One step at a time. Mike Dunleavy isn't delusional about Milwaukee's mission impossible:
'For us, I don't think we look at it as it's a seven-game series and we've got to win four out of seven,'' Bucks forward Mike Dunleavy said. ''We've got to win one game. When we win one game, then we'll say, 'Hey, we've got to win another one game.' To look at it as a whole and say we've got to beat these guys four times out of seven when they haven't lost four times out of 50, it's monumental.''
No awards for Larry. No big shocker here: Marc Gasol is expected to be named the league's defensive player of the year while Pacer all-star Paul George will take home most improved honors. Sanders was a longshot in the crowded DPOY field but had a better case for MIP, the same award that Ersan Ilyasova nearly bagged last year. No word yet on voting totals, but expect those to be released in the next day. Sanders' best remaining hope is a spot on the of the all-defensive teams, though there's no shortage of quality big men (Gasol, Tim Duncan, Joakim Noah) giving him competition.