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Wake Up Call: Bucks Swallow Dose of Hard Reality

NBA: Playoffs-Miami Heat at Milwaukee Bucks Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve all been there.

On paper, everything looks great. You’ve got all the details mapped out, you’ve got all the angles covered. You’ve got plans, and you’ve got backup plans, and those plans have backup plans.

Then something goes wrong, and it throws everything off. Maybe it’s a flat tire, or a missed email, or ill-timed weather, or in yesterday’s case, a blocking foul from Kevin Love.

The Milwaukee Bucks were clearly thrown off by the unexpected absence of Giannis Antetokounmpo. The game plan likely accounted for him playing close to 40 minutes, not 10. As a result, everyone else had to shift their focus and adopt different roles on the fly, and it led to a lackluster Game One loss to the Miami Heat.

But here’s the thing about this story: the Bucks were already playing poorly by the time Giannis got hurt. Look at the score in that clip above! Milwaukee was already down by double-digits in the first quarter because they walked into the game while the Heat ran, and as a result Milwaukee is starting the postseason run off with a tough loss.

It’s easy to blame the injury for yesterday’s poor performance. But don’t put that on the fall (from which we hope Giannis bounces back from), or on the whole charge debate that’s raging on social media, or even on Kevin Love (who Giannis has a pretty good relationship with!). The Bucks were given a strong dose of hard reality yesterday, and it’s on them to figure out how to respond.

Milwaukee took 45 threes in Game One...and made only 11 of them. Meanwhile, Miami limited themselves to only 25 attempts...and they made 15 of those shots. That sort of shooting disparity is, by definition, a “double-outlier” and while it helps to explain the margin of defeat, the reason for why Milwaukee lost is deeper than missing shots vs. hitting shots. The Heat hit 60% (15/25) of their well as 59% (35/59) of their twos.

The Bucks provided very little resistance in the paint from the jump. There were a half-dozen possessions in the second quarter when Milwaukee switched to a zone defense, but simply permitted Jimmy Butler to catch an entry pass at the free throw line. This gave him plenty of runway to work to his spots, even against a DPOY candidate like Brook Lopez, and buoyed Miami’s offensive explosion. Not to be forgotten, Bam Adebayo – the same Bam Adebayo who looked shell-shocked in the Bucks-Heat first round series two years ago – was offered open shooting windows time after time, and without any interference he settled into a rhythm and managed to score his average without too much effort.

Milwaukee’s offense, by and large, was generally fine yesterday. They stunk up the joint with their wayward three-point shooting, but they wildly over performed on two-point field goals. You heard that Miami hit nearly 60% of their shots inside the arc; consider that the Bucks hit 74% (34-for-46)! But when half of your attempts are from beyond the arc and you make less than a quarter of them, that’s simply providing too many opportunities for the other team to make up lost ground, or in this case, extend an advantage.

That’s really what Game One boils down to: the Bucks let Miami do too much. Whether it was running their offense and allowing Miami to find comfortable shots, or bailing out their defense by continuing to spam three-pointers in lieu of exploiting Milwaukee’s size advantage (Bobby Portis got some work done inside, but Brook Lopez’s post proficiency was conspicuously underutilized), the Heat were allowed a degree of comfort teams rarely get in the playoffs.

This was the reason why Milwaukee invested in rough-and-tumble wings like Jae Crowder and Wes Matthews. This is why Jrue Holiday and Jevon Carter play as many minutes as they do in the backcourt; to put the clamps on opposing teams and make their experience miserable. The Bucks’ offense just needs to have the three-point shooting variance swing back their way (as usual) and they’ll be fine. Milwaukee’s defense was soft, and Game One should serve as a wake-up call for what they need to do differently going forward.

Here’s hoping.