When the Milwaukee Bucks went out and took the first game of their series against the Boston Celtics on the road, it felt like the culmination of something. For two days, we felt like kings and queens, didn’t we folks? Hell, I spent the first half of my weekly Monday piece ranting and raving like a lunatic about how we’d been criminally underrated (again!) by the wider world; it was immoral to have expected any outcome other than a Bucks win.
Whoops! Didn’t count on the team coming out in game two and deciding to play some of the most comically inept hero ball you’ve probably seen in awhile! At least there’s always a game three.
Where We’re At
When the series schedule first dropped we all raised our eyebrows slightly at the four day separation between games two and three (I hope Godsmack put on a hell of a show for the locals last night) — now that we’re here, it may actually have been for the best. The Bucks got absolutely hammered in game two on both ends of the floor and desperately needed some time to regroup and smooth out whatever adjustments Mike Budenholzer is going to unveil this afternoon.
Where those changes may come is an open question for which I’ll just throw out some speculation. Truly, the team looked bad on both ends of the floor, especially in the first quarter when Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday “executed” poor isolation offense which then fed into a vicious cycle on defense when the Celtics rushed out to a huge 15-3 lead in like three minutes. Unlike game one, Boston simply couldn’t miss many of the wide open three pointers Milwaukee was largely granting them in hopes that the percentages would swing our way again. In the first half alone, the Celtics shot 13-20 from three (compared to our 2-8), and though they cooled off a little in the second half, the disparity in shot attempts is hilarious: 7-23 in the second half for Boston, 1 make in 10 total second half three-point attempts for Milwaukee. Folks, in the spirit of the inimitable Jon McGlocklin, if you’re losing by a ton your best hope is to get a stop, a three, a stop, a three, a stop, a three, and another stop with another three, and then you’re right back in this thing.
So now we’re confronted with a classic chicken or the egg problem in wondering which side of the ball needs more fixing, the offense or the defense. Widely, I think most would point to the offense needing an upgrade, and frustratingly I’m not sure how much Budenholzer can do other than tell Giannis and Jrue to play better. If Boston is going to challenge Giannis to overcome single interference on the perimeter followed by an early double and he falls down on the job... what are we supposed to do? I’d argue that Milwaukee left a lot of secondary options on the table in game two, whether it be the vaunted (if rarely seen) Brook Lopez post touches, encouraging Pat Connaughton and Grayson Allen takes to the rim if Boston allows them to roam relatively freely, or even riding the Bobby Portis tough shot express in the absence of Khris Middleton. Oh, and take threes. Like, more than 18 total threes, please.
On defense, I think most of the principles remain he same and the biggest change is Budenholzer threatening anyone who habitually overhelps. Yes, Boston will get open threes in the flow of our defense because that is part of what we do, but each time a Buck opts to try and be the “decisive third defender” on a Celtics drive a Boston three-point attempt gets its wings. Perhaps we will fall back more heavily on the base zone-drop defense instead of asking our big men to hedge so aggressively and ask the on-ball defenders to redouble their efforts.
Frankly, and frustratingly, it is about being better in the moment on both ends. Don’t revert to dumb singleton basketball when you have the ball, don’t throw Pat Connaughton and the kitchen sink on a driving Grant Williams. Trust that we’ll be okay doing what generally got us here.
And if you’re sitting around wondering how it is we’re going to find our way out of this self-imposed paper bag, I hope you find a little comfort in knowing that the oddsmakers also have no idea which version of Milwaukee will show up today: We’re a -1.5 favorite as the home team. That’s just how bad we looked in game two.
On the injury front, secret weapon Sam Hauser is out for Boston with a shoulder injury and Marcus Smart is listed as probable and he’s said there is a “strong likelihood” he plays. For Milwaukee, we got one of the greatest non-updates of all time for Khris:
MEDICAL UPDATE ON KHRIS MIDDLETON— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) May 5, 2022
Khris Middleton continues to make steady progress on his left knee injury rehabilitation and additional updates will be provided as appropriate.
Middleton was originally diagnosed with a left knee MCL sprain on April 20. https://t.co/9cGomj1WEG
George Hill — remember that guy — has been listed as probable having been sidelined with an abdomen/spine/neck/whole gosh dang body injury for weeks. Boy, would getting the theory of his playmaking back be a salve.
Player to Watch
I’m actually going to pick Brook Lopez because it feels like he’s been quiet so far this series. In game two when the offense just couldn’t get off the ground, he took a total of two shots and made one of them. Two. That’s it. He shouldn’t be getting 10+ shots by any means, but if things just aren’t going our way I’d like to see the Bucks go to Brook for a possession or two and see if that unlocks anything. Boston has habitually been switching pretty much everything and you will see Brook shoving Derrick White around baseline, so maybe it’ll pay dividends to get the ball his way on occasion. Defensively, everyone else staying home on their assignment means the bulk of responsibility rests on Lopez’s shoulders in the paint, as it ever was.
Game 3: Against Boston, the Bucks will...
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Win big (by 10 or more points)
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