It may seem a little backward, but the Milwaukee Bucks defense of Blake Griffin all began with how they chose to devalue the Pistons shots from behind the arc. Griffin is the team’s cornerstone and the only legit threat to score on his own. It’s been clear during all three games between these teams this season that Mike Budenholzer’s priority has been to stop Griffin. In order to do so, he’s sacrificed some good looks from downtown.
Coming into the New Year’s Day game, the Pistons took 34.7% (seventh most) of their shots from behind the arc. Despite their lack of hesitation to bomb away, they’ve only connected on 33 percent, ranking dead last in the NBA. This plays right into Budenholzer’s hand.
In the first Bucks-Pistons matchup of the season on December 5th, Detroit shot a remarkably awful 21.9 percent from downtown. You literally have to try to be that bad. In that game, the Bucks blew the Pistons out of the water by whooping them 115-92.
It was a bit of a different story when the teams met 12 days later. This time, Detroit exposed Milwaukee by sinking 41.2 percent of their threes. The outcome of the game was the same, but it was significantly closer as the Bucks only beat Detroit by three.
Tuesday night was no different as the Pistons took 33.7 percent of their shots from behind the arc. This time, their average met in the middle as they splashed home 35.7 percent of them.
This was still good enough for the Bucks and Budenholzer, as their defense of Griffin was key in all of this:
In order to understand how the Bucks guarded the three-point line, it’s imperative we first see how they defended the engine that makes the Pistons run. All game long, Milwaukee was sending multiple defenders at Griffin whenever he caught the ball on the block.
Here, Eric Bledsoe sinks and helps not once, but twice before Griffin finally scores. By doing so, he pretty much ignores Reggie Jackson and dares the 35.1 percent three-point shooter to knock down a shot on the perimeter.
Even though Griffin scores here, Brook Lopez and Sterling Brown also have their sights on the All-Star power forward, but aren’t quite in the position to help. Lastly, notice how D.J. Wilson closes out and then leans on his inside shoulder when in the post. More on that in a minute.
The Bucks were also worried about Griffin on the perimeter, as he knocked down four of his nine three-point attempts on the night:
Once Griffin catches the kick-out pass on the perimeter, he sort of has a mismatch against Khris Middleton. It’s unclear if Sterling Brown was actually supposed to double here, but he did so anyways. The result is a couple of swing passes and an open three in the corner for Reggie Bullock, the team’s best three-point shooter.
The Bucks carried the inside-out defense of Griffin and his teammates into the second quarter. On this right block post-up, four Bucks pay close attention to Griffin on his deep touch:
Tony Snell’s man, Luke Kennard, dumps the ball into Griffin. Snell then leaves Kennard, a 35.7 percent outside shooter, to dig on Griffin and get the ball out of his hands. Griffin does send it back up top, but Kennard wisely gets the ball right back down low before cutting through.
At that point, Thon Maker and Bledsoe completely turn their backs on their man to shift their attention. Maker steps up to force the difficult shot and Bledsoe drops down to help-the helper. In the end, it creates a tough shot for Griffin and a defensive rebound for Milwaukee.
As the second quarter was winding down, Griffin once again drew a lot of defensive attention. Instead of forcing the shot this time, he kicked out to the corner which eventually led to three points:
Following the ball screen from Andre Drummond, Griffin is able to drive into the lane. When he does so, Lopez is dropping on the screen and is in good help position. However, Brown feels the need to get into Griffin’s space in order to stop the drive. When he does so the ball is dumped to the corner over his head and chaos ensues.
Brown wildly closes out on his man who’s able to get dribble penetration. When he does so, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Lopez and Brogdon all drop down to stop the ball. This leaves Jackson open on the perimeter and he sinks the long-ball.
Even as the Bucks began to pull away in the second half, their concentration on Griffin continued. Throughout the game, Milwaukee made it clear they were willing to concede an outside shot instead of allowing Griffin to get his points, a point illustrated again by the following possession:
Middleton was matched up on Griffin so the two went down low to the block. Similar to Wilson’s defense previously, Middleton overplays on his inside shoulder. He does so because he knows the help (Lopez) is coming from the baseline. As Griffin turns to the baseline like Middleton wanted, Lopez comes flying up to stop the ball.
Brogdon is now tasked with defending two players at once. He naturally sinks down low to slow down Drummond from receiving an alley-oop over the top. However, by doing so, he’s leaving an open shooter on the perimeter if the Pistons can find him. Fortunately they don’t, but Antetokounmpo is called for a foul after the kick-out.
On this last play I’ll show you, two Bucks defenders sink into the lane and leave their man wide open on the perimeter in an attempt to stop Griffin:
First things first, middle penetration is the worst. It creates a whole bunch of problems and often causes confusion for the defense. When Griffin posts Wilson up at the nail, the Bucks send Bledsoe on the high side to dig. As he’s doing so, Lopez also abandons his man in the corner to focus on the Piston’s big man. Even though the ball isn’t thrown outside, the Bucks once again show they are willing to allow an outside look instead of allowing Griffin to score in the paint (even if it doesn’t work here).
The three-point shot has been a topic of conversation for Bucks’ fans all season long as Milwaukee gives up more outside shots than anyone else; 36.1 percent of opponent attempts come from behind the arc. However, this is by design and to this point, opponents only connect on 36.8 percent of those looks, which ranks 23rd.
Budenholzer’s main priority has been to prevent looks at the rim where his team only allows opponents to take 29.7 percent of their shots (first in the NBA). That strategy is wholly apparent when the Bucks take on a poor shooting team like the Pistons.
What really stood out to you about the game? Are there any breakdowns you’d like to see in the future? Please comment below!
*All stats are from Cleaning the Glass.