The Milwaukee Bucks are on the brink of fulfilling the fated Bucks in Six prophecy for the third time in their last four series. To get there, they’re facing their greatest uphill battle yet, squaring off against a multi-faceted Boston Celtics team with wing scorers and a phalanx defense that’s sputtered the Bucks halfcourt offense to a grinding halt. After a bloodbath defensive series, both teams finally broke out in Game Five with their best offensive performances to date. Milwaukee’s was fueled by Giannis Antetokounmpo’s relentless nature and the three-ball finally dropping. Boston had an uncharacteristically impressive night in the paint, outscoring the Bucks 50-44 in the paint and finally getting their transition game flowing.
At this point in the series, it normally feels like both coaches have laid out their whole decks and are scrounging through the drawers for a spare ace to play. From my view though, there are still a number of questions to sort through as Game Six sits on the horizon. Let’s run through the three I’ll be watching.
How much does Milwaukee switch?
Until Game Five, we hadn’t really seen Bud play the all-switching strategy that he deployed to such success against the Hawks last year, and with the PJ Tucker groups to close games. He seemed content to use drop coverage, even to the point he let Giannis deep drop against Tatum pick-and-rolls early in Game Five. The idea is of course to protect the paint, which has done wonders for the majority of this series, but Bud needed a change of pace to flip the tenor of last night’s game and it came in the form of switching.
Mike Budenholzer's adjustment in Game 5:— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) May 12, 2022
The Bucks defense switched 33 pick-and-rolls of 88 total by the Celtics, way up from 21 switches on 300 P&R over Games 1 thru 4.
Milwaukee is allowing only 0.68 points per switched pick-and-roll over the full series, per @SecondSpectrum. pic.twitter.com/39LbVM0YUX
It wasn’t just in the fourth quarter, he dabbled with it early in the game which probably portended what would come. Well that, along with the really bizarre comment assistant coach Patrick St. Andrews made to Stephanie Ready at halftime about “adjustments we’ve seen before.” Anyway, the lineup with Jrue-Wes-Pat-Bobby-Giannis switched aplenty, and I think it’s a strategy we could see with Brook Lopez at times too. The problem is it could compromise Milwaukee’s elite defensive rebounding this series (79.1%), but if there’s no Robert Williams, that may not be as much of an issue.
I’m generally fine if they stick with their base coverage while Brook is in though, as well as with lineups that feature two of Bobby, Grayson and George Hill. The Celtics are hunting the latter two more viciously as the series has worn on, and Grayson doesn’t have the strength, nor Hill the size right now to take on Tatum or Brown.
The main coverage I’d like to see switching alleviate is when Bobby is getting flushed through the pick-and-roll spin cycle over and over. Boston is taking advantage of his hedging repeatedly, either easily working around him for a drive, dishing the ball to someone open and just generally getting great looks. I’d expect Bud to lean more heavily on switching in this game, but the base drop coverage will still probably be their predominant defensive form.
How short is Bud’s leash?
My hands were properly wrung about Grayson Allen in recapping Game Five, but I do understand why he seems like a necessary component of the rotation still. With no Khris Middleton, he’s one of the few guys besides Giannis and Jrue who can competently dribble into the lane for a layup or a pass. We saw him work a pass to Giannis in the pick-and-roll, and hit a key and-one, but we also saw him get stripped easily while going to the hoop and get bullied on the defensive end. He really hasn’t gotten his three-point shot off at the volume one would hope, and he may want to take a page out of Pat Connaughton’s book and learn the high-release shot type.
I thought George Hill returning would give this team a bit of much needed length and defensive strength, but he doesn’t look like he can bring nearly as much as I hoped in his current state (recall his back still seems not fixed but he’s playing through it). Tatum is hunting him whenever possible, and to much success closing out Game Four. He also isn’t offering as much as Grayson on the offensive end, but he is more reliable defensively at least. I don’t think Jevon Carter solves either of these problems, and I think Boston would merely ignore him beyond the arc and muck up Giannis’s spacing even more. The question for Bud is just how much he wants to tax his players — already taxed to the maxed — and roll with as short a rotation as possible for as many minutes as possible. Pat hit 31 minutes and Wes hit 37 in Game Five. I’m expecting Bud to stand pat with his rotations for the most part, but I would expect a bit more Brook and Pat, possibly a bit less Grayson.
Where will the offense come from?
Through five games in this series, Milwaukee’s only reliable source of bucket-getting is in transition. Scoring before Boston sets their defense has yielded points aplenty, but the Celts cut most of those avenues off in Game Five. Milwaukee got out in transition on just 8.6% of plays per Cleaning The Glass, their third lowest number of the entire season. They made hay, but Boston took their rake and square baler away. Instead, the Bucks used offensive rebounding to their advantage, snaring 35.7% of rebounds. It didn’t yield much efficient offense on putbacks, but the sheer volume was enough to compensate for their halfcourt offense and turning off the transition spicket.
Figuring out where the Bucks can scratch points off Boston is imperative, since relying on any halfcourt offensive stability at this point is silly. Their season-long points/play in the halfcourt was 99.4 (of course that was with Khris). Here’s where they’ve been this series:
- Game 1: 75.6
- Game 2: 91.4
- Game 3: 75.6
- Game 4: 94.3
- Game 5: 87.8
For context, Detroit ranked dead last in the league with 88.6 points per play in the regular season. Weirdly, Milwaukee’s worst halfcourt games correlate to their victories in this series. It’s not exactly a winning formula though. I expect we’ll still see plenty of isolation from Jrue and Giannis, but we got glimpses of a side pick-and-roll with Grayson, plenty of dribble hand-offs and Brook’s inside game waxing and waning as release valves for this team. Getting shots from outside off quickly is imperative against this hyper-fast recovery team, but ultimately the Bucks will likely either need to re-find their transition advantage this game or pound the glass once more to take this one.
Let us know in the comments below what you’ll be looking for in Game Six.