The Milwaukee Bucks entered this series favored, if only slightly, against the Miami Heat. Now, staring at an 0-2 series deficit and with four wins standing between them and the Eastern Conference Finals, more than just this season hangs in the balance.
Much of the conversation following the Bucks’ disappointing Game 2 loss was focused on the officials; Milwaukee put themselves in position to be able to tie the game with mere seconds remaining, but the last few possessions were marred by missed calls, weak calls, and perplexing calls, putting most of the attention on how the refs impacted the flow of the game.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer on final foul call of Game 2 loss to Heat: “I’d say we’re disappointed with the judgment, the decision, the timing. It’s a tough job. I have a lot of respect for the officials. We have our way of seeing things. We’re going to disagree.” pic.twitter.com/8mmLdqFV7U— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) September 3, 2020
At the end of the day, though, the Heat outplayed the Bucks, and Milwaukee was unable to steal a victory through any ill-gotten means. The Bucks simply must play better than they have been, and a big part of that is Giannis Antetokounmpo (on the floor) and Mike Budenholzer (on the sideline). Neither has done enough to put the Bucks into more advantageous position against this opportunistic Heat squad, and the remainder of this series will require significant improvement from both of them in order to turn the tides back in the Bucks’ favor.
Player to Watch: Eric Bledsoe
For stretches of games, he’s been a valuable X-factor for Milwaukee. His ability to drive on offense and navigate screens on defense goes a long way to leveling out the playing field. Two things to watch here are Bledsoe’s decision-making and how they affect his playing time, especially as he just came back from a hamstring issue that kept him from playing in Game 1.
Bonus Trend to Watch: Milwaukee’s starters’ playing time
This game is too important for us to ignore one of the major factors of this series: the Bucks’ rotation is bloated, and the bench contributors have not paid dividends. Donte DiVincenzo has been bad. Pat Connaughton has been bad. Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, and Wesley Matthews have been good. At some point, the Bucks need to make the decision that they need to play their good players more minutes; all that load management was done so that their playing time could increase when the team needs it most. Which is to say...right now!
The Bucks' 2 starting line-ups (with Bledsoe and Hill) have played a combined 18 minutes out of 96 in Games 1 and 2.— Dean Maniatt (@AllTheBucks) September 3, 2020
The Heat's starting line-up has played a combined 28 minutes out of 96 in Games 1 and 2.
Has research actually shown that resting players for the end of games provides any value?— Dean Maniatt (@AllTheBucks) September 4, 2020
Giannis entered the game in the 4Q at the 6:05 mark. It took 27 minutes of actual time before getting to the last 7 seconds, which took an additional 5 minutes to complete.
I’m no head coach, but I see it this way: your starters are all doing well (honestly, Giannis might be the most disappointing of the starters, relative to expectations), as is George Hill off the bench. Marvin Williams has been up-and-down but you need his versatility, and Kyle Korver might be the most dependable shooter of the bunch. So, if you’re reading this Coach Bud, here’s what you do:
Play the starters together for as long as they can. Let George Hill spell Bledsoe and Matthews. Let Marvin Williams spell Giannis and Brook. Let Korver spell Khris, but more sparingly. Pat has to sit unless the Bucks have a 15+ point lead, ditto for Donte. It’s put-up or shut-up time.
Things are going swimmingly in South Beach. Winning Game 1 in convincing fashion was one thing, but securing a victory in Game 2 despite nearly going into overtime drastically improved Miami’s stock...and championship aspirations. Not only that, they seem to be improving their prospects for the future, if some reports are to be believed.
Heat, Raptors frontrunners in Giannis sweepstakes https://t.co/QeLYLEmOvO pic.twitter.com/dmbneym5Up— Hot Hot Hoops (@hothothoops) September 3, 2020
For the most part, the Heat remain healthy, but have two new question marks on the injury report. Andre Iguodala (ankle) is listed as questionable after Kyle Korver affected(?) his landing on a three-point attempt in Game 2, and Kelly Olynyk (knee) is also listed as questionable. The absences of these two bench pieces could create an opening for Milwaukee, but by no means do they represent a panacea to what plagues the Bucks in the bubble.
Player to Watch: Jae Crowder
The “other” Marquette University product (Wes Matthews and Jimmy Butler being the others) has been a major difference maker for the Heat. Since joining the team in a trade from the Memphis Grizzlies, Crowder’s three-point percentage jumped from 0.293 to 0.445 in the regular season. In the first two games of this series, Crowder is shooting 7/19 (0.368), which is nearly three points above his career average. Crowder is a major part of the Heat’s defensive efforts against Giannis and Khris Middleton, and his uptick in shooting performances has made him all the more valuable. Finding ways to lower his accuracy would be a huge boon for Milwaukee.
Game 3: Against Miami, the Bucks will...
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Win big (by 10 or more points)
Win close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose big (by 10 or more points)