We all saw it. Milwaukee had a rough and sloppy Game 1 against the Brooklyn Nets resulting in a 107-115 loss. Despite James Harden’s early exit, Milwaukee were unable to take advantage of the absence. Despite the loss, the Bucks can turn things around and even the series in Game 2. Here are some ways it can happen.
Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday HAVE to be better
If Milwaukee was going to have any chance, it was going to need Giannis, Khris and Jrue to play at the level we expect and need them to be at. Middleton could not get a shot to fall only scoring 13 points on shooting 6/23 from the field and not making a single three. He looked out of sorts and could not get any rhythm at all if people are going to say Khris is good, he’s going to need to be good in games like this when the team needs some offensive spark. Jrue was not that much better with 17 points on 7/19 shooting; he didn’t look like the steady offensive presence Milwaukee had saw all season and on defense, it seemed like he was a step behind and couldn’t keep up. The Bucks made the gamble that he would be a difference maker because of his two way ability and Kyrie Irving constantly cooking was not helping matters. Jrue and Khris can play better than they did and will need to for any chance of this series going the Bucks’ way.
In Game 1 against the Miami Heat, Milwaukee shot 5/31 from three; in Games 2-4 they saw their shooting undergo a mean reversion in their favor to blow the heat out of the water. In game one against Brooklyn, the Bucks shot 6/30 from three and led to the offense’s struggles after the first quarter. Some of the misses were open looks from players you want shooting the ball, but there were plenty of early shot clock threes, Giannis tied the team with the second most attempted threes, and you never had the feeling any shot was going in. Bryn Forbes went scoreless for much of the game, and didn’t make a three until the game was effectively over. PJ Tucker had his normal corner threes attempted and we already talked about Khris Middleton’s struggles. Yes, it’s possible Milwaukee won’t continue to shoot 20% from three, but this was a concern that some of the Brew Hoop staff had going into the series.
Minutes and rotations
With the injury of Donte DiVincenzo, it forced Milwaukee to make some changes to their starting lineup and bench rotation. While Pat Connaughton started Game 4 against Miami, PJ Tucker got the starting nod in Game 1 here. The move made sense, as it allowed Tucker to be the primary defender on Durant and free up Giannis. However, there were other decisions that Budenholzer made that raised some concerns. Going nine players deep by the second quarter was an interesting decision, especially when you see on the other side and Kyrie and Kevin Durant were playing the majority of the first half. Budenholzer will need to have two of Khris, Jrue and Giannis on the court at all times and hopefully have all three play together for at least 30 minutes. Jeff Teague essentially provided nothing of value and it’s tough to justify lobbying for him to see the court in any meaningful minutes the rest of this series. The decision to have Connaughton and Teague on the floor at the same time, especially when Bobby Portis as the center, was asking Brooklyn to just score however they wanted. It’s clear right now that one of Giannis or Brook has to be on the court, both for their scoring ability, and also to have some sort of defensive presence.
Let Giannis and Brook feast
I will try and go to a positive for Milwaukee. Giannis scoring 34 points on decent (but not great, by his standards) efficiency was encouraging. Brook being a bully down low and consistently getting rebounds and putbacks was great too. Both of them probably should have gotten more than six free throw attempts, but that’s an issue that seems pointless to argue in Adam Silver’s NBA. What made Milwaukee’s first half work so well was that those two were able to get whatever baskets they wanted, and were the only ones who were able to find any rhythm. Despite the rest of the Bucks not providing much, Giannis and Brook had their chances the whole game. The good thing is, their performances seem very replicable for this series.
Keep your composure and execute
Maybe it was the thought of revenge, maybe it was the increase in difficulty of the Nets, or maybe it was the fact that the Miami Heat were just not a good team. But the Bucks have now gotten punched in the mouth and need to keep their cool and execute better. You had a week-long break and the rust is hopefully gone and that can show in an improved shooting performance. Milwaukee are no strangers to losing the first game in a series and doing better, it happened in 2019 against Boston Celtics and last year in the bubble against the Orlando Magic. Brooklyn is significantly better than both of those teams, but making sure to not get rattled again (like they did in the second half) will get the Bucks back on track.
So what do you think Milwaukee needs to do? Is Jrue and Khris improving enough? Will the Bucks shoot better and change the flow of Game 2? Will Budenholzer make any changes to his rotation? Whatever happens, Milwaukee can bounce back and get the series in a manageable position or they will head into Game 3 with a difficult uphill climb.