It didn’t take long for things to turn against the Milwaukee Bucks. That applies to their play on the court (where they started 0-1 in their first round series against the 8-seed Orlando Magic) as well as the sentiments of the fanbase.
To be clear, the Bucks have earned it.
What Toronto did last year in no way excuses or explains (or even relates to) what the Bucks did today. This was a terrible performance by a team that hasn’t looked dominant in the bubble at all.— Psydud (@StevevonHorn) August 18, 2020
Coming into the bubble, Milwaukee had lost three straight and 4 of their last 5. In context, though, that stumble was largely unimportant; the last three were all on the road, Giannis Antetokounmpo missed the last two, and the Bucks were still well ahead of the second-place Toronto Raptors for control of the Eastern Conference. Also, it was March.
It’s not fair to carry over the criticisms from before a four-month layoff, especially when an injury is involved. Unlucky for us, though, the Bucks have given us plenty of reason for concern since the restart, and optimists are running out of slack to give.
Bucks taking a lot of “get it all back at once” shots— Anchorage Man (@SethPartnow) August 18, 2020
Since July 31, the Bucks went 3-5 in the regular season. They were often caught playing loose, rotating late, and generally going through the motions. This made some fans nervous, but many posited that Milwaukee was less concerned with the regular season conclusion and more focused on when the games actually mattered.
In Tuesday’s blowout loss to the Magic, in a game that actually mattered, the Bucks were caught playing loose, rotating late, and generally going through the motions.
The Bucks played like they expected the Magic to just quietly go away.— Dean Maniatt (@AllTheBucks) August 18, 2020
The very rushed shots in transition and early in the clock, the utter lack of defensive coordination and the turnovers showed a team that believed the next made basket would give them a 4-0 series win.
That’s what’s ultimately so frustrating about this opening of the Bucks’ playoff run. When it came time to flip the switch, it didn’t work. Game 1 (and really, the entire lead-up in Orlando) was the equivalent of setting your alarm clock, hitting the ‘snooze’ button twice, scrolling through Twitter before actually getting dressed, grabbing breakfast on the road despite knowing that it’s rush hour...and then acting surprised about being late for work.
So what now? What can the Bucks actually try and do, in order to get right (and stay right) agains the Magic in Game 2?
On defense, Mike Budenholzer already tinkered with Giannis-at-center lineups (featuring Marvin Williams or Khris Middleton as the nominal “power forwards”), and even tried to switch some possessions while Brook Lopez was on the floor. Based on the results, none of it worked, but then again after the Magic were gifted enough open looks to fuel a 33-point first quarter, they may have already had enough shot-making momentum for the game.
The trouble is that making changes to the defense might end up creating openings that the Magic simply shot over yesterday. As Adam noted in the Rapid Recap...
Orlando shot 13-19 (68.4%) at the rim and 8/11 (72.7%) from between 4-14 feet. During the year, the Bucks allowed opponents to shoot just 55.1% and 36.7% from those areas respectively in the regular season. I know the volume is small, but if the Bucks defense isn’t even walling off the paint against a team that isn’t exactly equipped to punish you down there, then your scheme has failed you, at least for this game.
Nikola Vucevic was 10/15 on twos, and 5/8 on threes. Markelle Fultz was 5/7 on twos. Terrence Ross, noted Buck killer, was a game-high +19 and went 7/10 on twos. Gary Clark, a career 32.1% three-point shooter, took 12 threes! The Bucks didn’t get killed from deep in this game, but Orlando took the shots they were given and simply made enough of them to take the victory. Of the players just mentioned, only Vuc is likely to repeat his efficient performance against the standard Bucks defense, which will be coming out of the gate with something to prove in Game 2.
On offense, there were a number of telegraphed passes that ended up in Orlando’s hands, as well as too many possessions that ended (prematurely, mind you) with a Giannis or Eric Bledsoe pull-up three pointer. In general, the Magic stepped up and demonstrated a complete lack of fear of Milwaukee, and nobody on the Bucks could capitalize on any openings to try and get things back on course.
One thing that irked me was the Bucks' players not getting to their spots in a timely fashion. The entire Magic defense is back and loading up on Giannis, yet he can't throw it to two of his guys because they aren't a threat. pic.twitter.com/HMP59uQ5fw— Bucks Film Room (Brian Sampson) (@BucksFilmRoom) August 19, 2020
Ah, the dreaded wall. Giannis has seen this before, and there are a number of possible solutions to the problem. The answer that won’t work is trying to simply bash through it, and as our own Brian Sampson notes above, perimeter spacers have to be in the right place for spacing to actually work against the wall. Another option, in theory, is for Giannis to try to simply shoot over the wall, sort of like a catapult during a medieval siege. But our friend oldresorter (now OldResorter1, apparently!) left a comment addressing Giannis’ shot here, and he addresses the myriad problems with the Greek Freak’s form, which also affect his free throws. Clearly, at least right now, the answer isn’t more Giannis jumpers.
Today @TheAthleticNBA, how much of the adjustments needed from the Bucks and Lakers is simply “play better?” https://t.co/r80wIaCuPE— Anchorage Man (@SethPartnow) August 19, 2020
Former Bucks’ stats wizard Seth Partnow has his take above, which is pretty clear. Or perhaps the problem is as simple as playing time: Giannis played 34 minutes and Khris (who was bad) played 31; would playing them more time result in better outcomes for the Bucks? Coach Bud used a 10-man rotation in this game, and has long been criticized for playing too many guys. Or maybe it’s something else? We have all day to worry about it, and we’ll find out soon enough; Game 2 is Thursday afternoon.
Let’s hope the Bucks wake up on time for this one.