With another regular season winding down, this will be my final Milwaukee Bucks Weekly Wednesday Wrap-up of the year. In lieu of this piece, we’ll try to infuse more immediate statistical reaction pieces during the team’s playoff run, but until then, thanks for everyone that checked this series out each week. Let’s wrap up.
The Week That Was
- Milwaukee 149, Indiana 136 (Jrue Holiday Wins Indy 500 (-449))
- Milwaukee 99, Boston 140 (Celtics Thrash Bucks)
- Milwaukee 117, Philly 104 (Bucks Ring the Bell on the Sixers)
- Milwaukee 140, Washington 128 (Bucks’ Wizardry Reduces Magic Number)
I watched the Pacers win after the Boston loss already happened, so maybe that’s why I couldn’t find much joy in that performance even with a Jrue Holiday 50-burger. It really just felt like a helter skelter track meet with sloppy play by the Bucks keeping the Pacers in it, whose sole offensive threat was to outrun the Bucks. Call me a curmudgeon but I didn’t find it all that fun. And if that wasn’t fun, the Boston game was, well, more on that later. Rebounding with a poster on Joel Embiid, Jim Harden and the Sixers was a delightful palate cleanser though. I was happy to see the Bucks battle back after Philly gave them a run for their money midway through the third. Despite Johnny Davis going for 20, the Bucks took care of business against a pesky Wizards squad.
Like most other folks, the most meaningful development from this past week was the crushing, painful, truly horrific display against the Boston Celtics. Am I panicking? No. That was fingerling potatoes compared to the russets that sat at my gut through Game Seven of Bucks-Nets. Not to mention the despair that hung over the team following Game Two of that series. To me, a few things can be true:
- Boston presents a troubling matchup for Milwaukee. For as much as the Bucks pushed that series to the brink last year, the point differential certainly skewed Boston, and they were an errant rebound away from it ending earlier.
- Both teams had outlier shooting nights. I know folks are tired of hearing it, but this stuff can happen in a one-game vacuum. At 3:10 in the third, when the competitive portion of this game was already over, Boston was 16-30 from three, Milwaukee was 6-27. The Bucks 26-72 overall (36%), Boston 39-69 (59%). I don’t think the Celtics would shoot that well for a full series.
All that being said, here’s why the Celtics game was so disappointing to me: the offense was as limp as I’ve seen it all year. Throughout this season, I’ve been bullish on the O, even as its rating has tanked, because I’ve felt like they’ve found more zip, more varied action, more possibilities within what was oftentimes a “okay star x, ram your head into the wall, then make something happen” approach in the past. The infusion of Joe Ingles, the emergence of Jrue on-ball, Brook catching the ball on the move, Allen improving some of his acumen as a driver. There was a liveliness to this team that, while sporadic, certainly inspired more belief in me than the past.
And then there was this Boston game. Time and again, I watched the team dribble up, make one pass, and shoot. Pass, shoot. I was in disbelief at just how little interest there seemed to be in running any discernible action from possession to possession. I wondered if this was purely a product of Milwaukee against the best teams in the league. Not necessarily; filtering by stats against the teams in the top ten in terms of point differential on Cleaning The Glass spits out the Bucks as still boasting the sixth best points per possession offensive rating. Defensively, they’re also sixth. Not near the Celts, who rank one and two in both of those sides of the ball using the same parameters, but it’s not been a chronic issue for this Bucks team. We saw that in play against a similarly lauded Sixers Sunday night.
So again, that brings me back to Boston specifically. Milwaukee is averaging incrementally fewer assists (about 1.5) vs. Boston against their season average. When Giannis is doing his driving thing, but nobody is paying it off from outside, it makes it easy to gum up the works. There’s also an element of Milwaukee’s off-ball shooters looking hesitant to get up shots with the way the Celtics recover to the perimeter.
The Bucks took 36% of their shots from deep in the competitive portion of the game, per Cleaning The Glass, below their season long mark of 40.9%. They replaced most of those shots with long midrangers, when they really need to be finding ways to attack the rim. Enter Brook Lopez, a particularly interesting pivot point of this matchup. Defensively, Al Horford’s perimeter shot makes it hard for Lopez’s drop coverage to be nearly as potent. It worked in last year’s Playoffs, though the gambit eventually failed them in the end. In this one, Milwaukee didn’t take away anything, the Celtics hit 16-18 from the rim.
Lopez has become an integral part to Milwaukee’s offensive rise in the second half of the season, and if Boston is going to remain a bit more nimble with their lineups, the Bucks cannot afford to ignore the kind of actions that have yielded such fruitful looks for Lopez all year long. That means pick-and-rolls, off-ball cuts, weaponizing him in the dunker against a smaller Boston team. I’m anticipating the series boiling down to a defensive dogfight, and Milwaukee will need to get back to the defense that nearly won them last year’s series, while squeezing every iota of offensive juice from the players that can still cut it on the floor.
The Celtics are a fascinating matchup, with defensive tactics to try and slow down Giannis and lineups that can compromise Bud’s core defensive principles. I haven’t felt we’ve seen much all-switching tactics all year from the Bucks, and I’m curious how quickly that may be deployed in the Playoffs after it was so critical to their title run. Maybe Khris Middleton will be the one to break the ice when their offense freezes over against this Boston team. Regardless, I would still pick Milwaukee in a series, but it’s close, and as the season winds down I remain in almost the exact same place I started this year: Boston looms as Milwaukee’s biggest threat to another title.
Plays of the Week
Nothing from that Boston game made it here. It was horrific. I threw in a Nwora pile-driver dunk cause I enjoyed it, the rest are decent if quasi run-of-the-mill offensive plays for this Bucks team.
The block on KD is a long ways away from this folks.
Lazy Sixers Lob
Sure, a lot of this is on flat-out lazy Sixers defense, but it’s been nice to see Brook and Khris’s lob chemistry since the latter has been back. Philly is barely running back and doesn’t get set in their zone in time. Once Brook slips and Embiid doesn’t follow him into the middle of the lane, he’s wide open for a lob on the backside with no tag from Georges Niang. This is a good example of what I think Bud wants when he talks about them playing with pace, not just barreling up in transition, but getting up, moving quickly and getting actions initiated before the defense has a chance to calcify.
Grayson Getting Crafty
Do I have questions about Grayson in the playoffs? Yes. But I don’t think it’s all that controversial to say he’s one of the few players outside of the big three who are actually capable of creating something off the dribble through movement. That’s a major reason why Bud stuck with him so long in the Boston series last year — they were gasping for some semblance of penetration and creation. Will it pan out this year, who knows, but this was one pretty passback. Coming all the way around Giannis setting up at the elbow, he gets Jalen McDaniels on his hip and splits the defenders digging in at the free throw line. As he gathers, he draws two defenders en route to the rim and tosses up a backwards lateral to an awaiting Giannis with no one around him.
Finding Soft Spots
Milwaukee was repeatedly abusing the Sixers beneath the basket from the dunker spot, with Brook using brute force and Holiday his speed to avoid Embiid registering even one block on the night. This was a prime example, with Lopez setting a pick that Middleton rejects, but keeps his spot on the floor spinning back to his right. Once Brook gets the screen set, Holiday lurches behind the Sixers defenders and is allowed unimpeded to enter Khris’s sight line thanks to Harden getting lazy. Middleton finds the passing angle so quickly without giving up his dribble, rifling the one-hander into Holiday for the finish.
Giannis houdinis Paul Reed here, getting the ball from Holiday near the free throw line and looking like he might be preparing to post up or turn and face. Instead Holiday runs right through the pocket of space allowed by Harden (who doesn’t even fake digging in to help on Holiday) and Melton is held up every so briefly by Giannis’s left arm. Jrue gets the ball before Paul Reed even realizes that it has left Antetokounmpo’s body because the Greek Freak’s massive frame is in the way, and then BAMF, Holiday has teleported to rim.
April 5: The Play of the Week is...
This poll is closed
Lazy Sixers Lob
Grayson Getting Crafty
Finding Soft Spots
That’ll do it for another year of wrap-ups. Thanks for following along.