After seemingly capturing a ton of momentum after sweeping the Miami Heat in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks have looked like a completely different team (in the worst ways possible) against the James Harden-less Brooklyn Nets.
The deficit is now 0-2 and the time is now or never for the Bucks to make their comeback attempt and make this a new series as it shifts to the Fiserv Forum for two games.
While simply asking them to “play better” is a start, here are some areas where if they execute properly, can make positive strides.
Exploit the massive size mismatch.
Going into this series, it looked like both a positive and negative outlook for Bucks big man Brook Lopez. The positive being that he has a huge height advantage over the entire Nets roster and the negative being him caught in no man’s land with Kevin Durant coming off screens and pulling up for mid-range jumpers. However, things got off to a positive start for Lopez in the first half of Game One with the Bucks repeatedly going to him in the post. Brook finished with 19 points and did not hit a single three which if you ask me, is a good thing! He should be feasting inside against a small team. Things went awry after the first half of Game One as Milwaukee went away from him and opted to shoot contested, ill-advised jumpers. It was more of the same in Game Two where the Bucks pretty much had no interest in exploiting any potential mismatches and Lopez was mostly relegated to the perimeter. Another positive from him this series has been how he has feasted on the offensive glass. He has created a bevy of second-chance opportunities for the Bucks.
Switching gears, he has done what he has been asked to do defensively. He has contested drives to the basket from Brooklyn guards well, but he has been repeatedly put in bad positions when asking to drop coverage when KD is pulling up from 15 feet. Now, Durant has proven that he will hit EVERY shot over any defender, but you can’t just let him walk into that...he’s made millions off the midrange jumper throughout his career. It will be interesting to see if Mike Budenholzer adjusst how they cover that, but my money is on them still having Lopez drop.
Giannis Antetokounmpo needs to be smarter.
We know how dominant he is in the regular season, but throughout his postseason career, there have been far too many mental mistakes to ignore. Don’t get me wrong, he has had some nice performances in the playoffs, but for the most part, he has been a COMPLETELY different and worse player when it matters the most. This hurt me to type but it is a simple truth. While he did have 34 points in the series opener, much of that was relegated by missed free throws, costly turnovers, and idiotic three-point attempts early in the shot clock. He followed that performance up with a complete stinker in Game Two, scoring only 18 points on 15 shots while being thoroughly outplayed by everyone who saw the floor on the Nets. Highly discouraging, for sure. Blake Griffin has guarded Antetokounmpo a ton in the first two games, but he does not seem intent on exploiting that mismatch but would rather settle for jumpers! Even more discouraging is the fact that when Giannis has gotten the ball in the paint, he is not making the correct reads. He will opt for a jumper instead of either lobbing it to Lopez down low or kicking it out to an open shooter on the wing. It KILLED the Bucks in Game Two. He has the same amount of turnovers (eight) as he does assists thus far to go along with a -29 plus-minus.
Took the Bucks 4 minutes to accidentally run into a Middleton/Kyrie mismatch in transition.— Dean Maniatt (@AllTheBucks) June 8, 2021
After a cut, Giannis ends up at this position and he can either lob to Lopez or pass to a wide open Forbes.
Instead he pulls the ball back and shoots a stepback jumper in front of KD. pic.twitter.com/lA6STx08B5
There is no doubt that he has a unique skill set, but I am now doubting his ability to get it done when the Bucks need it the most. It’s all fun and games when they’re winning, but when they’re down, Giannis seems to fold and become a mentally weak player we are not accustomed to seeing. For Milwaukee to have any chance of winning a game in this series, they need Antetokounmpo to come out aggressive (but in control), and get into the restricted area. Granted, this is also about putting him in the best position to succeed, which in this postseason has been using him as a roll man. It would be nice to see him get Brooklyn in foul trouble and get them into the bonus early for some freebies...although that is far from a guarantee with Giannis at the line. Oh, and lastly, show some passion. He is just giving Brooklyn more ammunition when he is moping around on the floor like he was on Monday night.
Share the basketball!
Wow, what a concept. Going into this series, most of us thought it would be Brooklyn doing the majority of the iso/hero ball...not the case. Brooklyn has been swinging the ball around the perimeter and passing up good shots for great ones. On the other side for the Bucks, they have reverted to early shot clock jumpers with little to no ball movement. There were multiple possessions in both games where the Bucks did not make more than one pass...pathetic. What has made the Bucks so deadly offensively over the last few years has been ball movement, something we also saw in the Heat series. I am not sure why they feel content in not sharing the basketball...just incredibly selfish and the blame falls on EVERYONE. Brooklyn has played improved defense this postseason, but the Bucks are playing right into their hands if they’re not spreading the ball around.
Both the conversion disparity and the fact that the Nets have created almost double the catch-and-shoot opportunities should speak to how poorly the Bucks are playing on both ends.— Dean Maniatt (@AllTheBucks) June 9, 2021
26 of the Nets 3-point attempts without a dribble have come from Kyrie, KD or Harris.
The Bucks haven’t gotten many good looks as a team offensively and that correlates directly to not passing the ball around. They had 21 assists in game one which is solid, but they followed that up with only 14 assists compared to 16 turnovers in the debacle that was Game Two. They NEED to keep the Nets off-balance defensively and not only does that open up gaps in the lane, but it creates even more mismatches, too. If the Bucks revert to more hero ball on Thursday night, it could get ugly...FAST.
Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday...WAKE UP!!!
I won’t harp on this too much since their struggles in two games have been heavily documented. I am having a hard time deciphering who has been the bigger disappointment, but for me, Middleton wins this coveted title. 13-of-43 shooting is hilariously bad, and many of those shots have been contested after no ball movement; just shooting to shoot. The Bucks are paying him nearly $35 million per season and performances like these are not going to cut it. He has been careless with the basketball in each game, regularly losing the handle driving to the basket or trying to squeeze a pass where there is no window. After dominating the Heat, you would have thought he would carry over the momentum and that certainly has not even been close to coming to fruition. I would say, “can it get any worse?” But it certainly has.
Jrue Holiday’s struggles are interesting...he is being asked to defend both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. It is hard to guard one of them, but when you’re trying to defend both throughout a whole game must be exhausting. It’s been a no-win situation because when he has defended well, Brooklyn still scores. Offensively, he has settled far too much for step-back jumpers and has been reluctant to attack the basket. Granted, when he has gotten open looks, they’re just rimming out. Hilariously painful at this point :(
The Bucks need to put both of these men in positions to succeed rather than just relying on them to create on their own. It would also be nice to see them, especially Jrue, exert his will on Kyrie and try to bully him down low as he did in Game One. Simply put, if these two are going to continue to struggle to make shots, the Bucks will be in Cancun by Monday of next week.
This is what I mean by the Giannis/Middleton P&R being unseasoned. Wait until 12 on the clock, run it in the middle of the floor with Portis at the dunker. Giannis doesn’t even roll. Middleton just drives into Claxton’s drop who contains and contests. Why? What’s the point? pic.twitter.com/G34UEy5IoQ— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) June 8, 2021