Sometimes when you’re knee deep in Schitt’s creek, you have to ask yourself how you got in this mess in the first place; then you ask how you get yourself out. Sometimes you can’t do anything about it and just sulk; other times, you thrive. Milwaukee is currently at a crossroads, trailing 0-2 in the series against the Miami Heat and we don’t now what is going to happen. Quite frankly, I dont feel confident Milwaukee can get itself out of the situation. Why should I? There has been no indication Milwaukee will suddenly be the team we saw before COVID-19 this season or even last year, when they were two wins away from making the NBA finals. But lets try and analyze the reasons Milwaukee’s immediate future, and long-term future, is looking grim.
Mike Budenholzer might be the worst remaining head coach in the Playoffs
Here are the head coaches for the teams remaining in the playoffs: Brad Stevens, Nick Nurse, Erik Spoelstra, Mike Budenholzer, Frank Vogel, Doc Rivers, Mike Malone, Mike D’Antoni. If you had to rank the head coaches, are you putting Budenholzer ahead of any of those guys? I’m not, and it would take some convincing arguments to change my mind. So far in Games 1 & 2, Budenholzer has not played his best players in situations that is needed. In Game 1 he decided not to play Wes Matthews the final 4:58 of the game. Matthews had done a good job in guarding Jimmy Butler, but in those final 5 minutes, Butler scored 13 points and essentially clinched the win for the heat. Budenholzer decided that Kyle Korver, Pat Connaughton and Marvin Williams would more than suffice. That backfired miserably. In Game 2, Giannis left the game with Milwaukee down 9 in the fourth quarter, baffling most fans. Milwaukee caught some good fortune that a Bam Adebayo flagrant foul review gave Giannis some more breathing time, but these are the stretches where you just let your best lineup go out and win you the game.
Antetokounmpo back with 6:05 left.— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) September 3, 2020
The biggest culprit though is when Khris Middleton drew his 5th foul at 5:06, Milwaukee is down 102-108 and Middleton heads to the bench.
Khris Middleton still on the bench— Justin Garcia (@tmjgarcia) September 3, 2020
Thankfully, Miami only scored two points in that stretch but again Milwaukee gambled too much and Miami could have sealed the game at this point. The Bucks defense and some last minute luck gave them a fighting chance to potentially steal this game. Middleton was a +18 in Game 2, and foul trouble aside, he still should be playing more than 33 minutes.
Milwaukee also does not seem to be capable of switching. Too many times we saw a Kelly Olynk/Robinson or Olynk/Herro pick-and-roll that would result in a back breaking three against Milwaukee. The drop zone scheme can work when the roll guy isn’t a viable threat to shoot and the ball handler doesn’t have a quick trigger. Maybe Budenholzer views switching as an absolutely break in case of emergency. Well, that’s where Milwaukee is right now. There is no Plan B with Budenholzer’s offense either. You kinda get the feeling that if 3-pointers don’t fall, you are destined to failure.
Lastly, Budenholzer went 10 deep, and when you are playing a better team, you have to shorten the bench, especially if they are going to give you nothing of value. Speaking of the bench...
Milwaukee’s bench is flat out terrible
In both games, the Bucks have played five players off the bench. Kyle Korver, Donte DiVincenzo, Pat Connaughton, George Hill, Marvin Williams and Frank Mason have all seen playing time. The results have been abysmal; Donte DiVincenzo has sadly been an absolute mess in the bubble. In the 22 minutes he has played in this series, Donte has scored 0 points on 0/2 shooting and a minus -11. He is not contributing in any positive manner and like Nikola Mirotic, you are just going to cut your loss and not play him the remainder of the series.
DiVincenzo is just not playable right now.— Dean Maniatt (@AllTheBucks) September 3, 2020
Pat Connaughton was passable during the Orlando series, but against a better team, has been exposed. He’s not contributing much with his shooting and defensively, he’s been unable to keep up with the likes of Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn. He doesn’t bring any ball handling ability either; he’s someone that probably shouldn’t be seeing much of the court either. Kyle Korver is the Bucks best shooter and able to go on a quick run to help Milwaukee. But he is also 39 years old; relying on him is setting you up for failure. Marvin Williams has held his end of the bargain as an adequate fill-in for when Giannis needs a breather and George Hill has been, once again, the only player on the bench you feel confident in. Tightening up the rotation will give Milwaukee a better chance as the bench mob is a regular season luxury but a playoff deadweight.
Giannis simply must be better
Giannis is the DPOY, and likely MVP. He earned those awards due to another strong season. In this playoff series, he HAS to be better. Missed free throws in Game 1, reckless fouls in game 2; the player that overpowered the league, including these Miami Heat, is nowhere to be found. The Heat have done a great job at going with the guard by committee approach, but Giannis has faced this before and has been able to figure it out. He needs to take the team, drag them to a win and take over, we just haven’t seen any sign of that yet.
Being punished for Individual mistakes
In Game 1, Milwaukee went 14-26 from the free throw line, allowed 12 offensive rebounds and turned the ball over 19 times which led to 28 Miami points; the Bucks lost by 11. In Game 2, Milwaukee again turned the ball over 14 times which led to 22 Miami points, and allowed the Heat to get 17 fast break points to Milwaukee’s 9. These mistakes have shown how thin the margins are in the playoffs and carelessness against a well-coached team make things more difficult.
Are their heads fully focused on basketball??
There’s a global pandemic that has caused massive job loss and killed 186,000 in this country. You are playing in a bubble where you didn’t get to see your family for almost a month, initially. Police brutality and systematic racism was a prevalent topic at the beginning of the restart. Police brutality happened again when a cop shot someone seven times in the back and you make the decision to go on strike; you call on Wisconsin State Legislature to take action, which has resulted in the exact opposite from the cowardly Robin Vos, Scott Fitzgerald and Jim Steineke. That is a lot to try and stomach, compartmentalize and endure while also expecting to play high intensity basketball. Is it a factor they are going to admit is the result of their poor play? Likely not, but we can’t think that with everything going on in the world, it isn’t affecting them.
So here we are, staring down the barrel of this generation of the Milwaukee Bucks as we know It. I really hope they find a way to turn it around similar to how the Toronto Raptors did last year. I want this Bucks team to be better, I want this whole bubble situation to be worth it and end with a title. But all the reasons they are in this mess don’t seem to be quick fixes. I can’t expect Budenholzer to make adjustments and be on the same level as Spoelstra. I can’t expect an inconsistent bench to be simply okay for four games. I can’t expect the Bucks in their current state to win four of the next 5 games. But then again, I guess they have to play and find out until they officially lose the series; who knows, maybe they get themselves out of the situation.