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The Milwaukee Bucks are on the cusp of yet another playoff exit as they lack a workable formula for how to win and are looking for answers they may never find.
This year should have been different. It was the year that the Milwaukee Bucks, learning from their previous postseason failures and working all season to improve their schematic flexibility, finally made the proper tactical adjustments and beat their eastern rivals in a deep playoff streak.
In four games in the first round, the Bucks seemed to dispel skepticism about their viability in the playoffs, but the last two games against the Brooklyn Nets rekindled those doubts as they fell victim to the same problems that plagued them in previous years. Now, as in previous seasons, Milwaukee is on the verge of another demoralizing departure, not even having a workable formula for how to defeat his opponent, in search of answers that he may never find.
How is the Milwaukee Bucks in this position again?
In theory, the Bucks had several clear advantages over Brooklyn entering the streak, most of which could have been augmented by James Harden, who unfortunately repaired his painful hamstring at the start of Game 1. Instead, the Nets took advantage of their advantages, and the Nets played as as if they have something to prove, the Seti, who sensed the vulnerability of their opponent and attacked him.
Meanwhile, a team that confidently played three consecutive dominant matches in the regular seasons and decisively defeated Miami in the first round, looked shaken by a rival with whom they must consider themselves equal. However, this series was not like that at all; Brooklyn beat the Bucks by 47 points in two games, beating them 36-14 from the three-point line and simply beating them in almost every way. And while it is true that aberrational three-point shooting played a role in the Nets’ first two wins in the series (the Bucks threw in a dismal 17 percent of depth in the first game, and the Nets eclipsed 50 percent in the second), Milwaukee’s problems are growing. much deeper than that.
Throughout the season, the Nets have built their attack on an isolated scoring as the Bucks moved to a more egalitarian attack based on movement. However, it is Milwaukee who appears to be intent on solving the problem one-on-one, while Brooklyn beautifully moves the ball around their two star scorers. Bucks assisted only 35 of the 82 goals scored. in the series – compared to 52 assists at 95 assists for the Nets – and their stagnant attack (slightly deliberate pun) hardly affected the Nets’ defense – which was judged simply as 21st in the points allowed for possession this year – work for the feet. Instead, they were content with fast jumpers or tricky mid-range attempts with little or no ball movement.
Even Milwaukee’s advantages on the bezel and aggressive glass have diminished. Game 2when the Nets capped their 11 offensive rebounds, nine free throw attempts (two of them were trashtime) and just 13 shots in the frame… The Bucks also passed the ball on more than 13 percent of his streak holdings (up from 7.4 percent for the Nets) – another result of trying to counter standard defenses across nearly all of his half-court holdings – and repeatedly attempted to isolate Giannis Antetokunmpo at the top of the key during the second game, even after it became clear that this approach did not work.
Spreading the floor around Antetokunmpo and being able to attack his defender one-on-one was an effective formula over the three regular seasons, but in this streak, the Nets have made a more concerted effort to block the paint and keep Giannis from hitting easily. in paint. Instead of continuing to set through him against a loaded defense, the Bucks could try to get the Antetokunmpo ball with the advantage, be it passing, hitting, rolling to the edge, or any another dynamic situation.
All of their offensive engagements in their first two games combined to a 97.2 Attack Rating (Poor), but the Bucks’ bigger problem may be their inability to hold Brooklyn across the court. No amount of defense could completely overwhelm the Nets’ offensive firepower, but Milwaukee had no chance of holding back the advance. most effective offense in the regular season of all time, especially Kevin Durant.
Antetokunmpo has been drawn from time to time, but the current defender of the year has struggled to stay ahead of Durant, let alone slide across the ball screens as he initiates a pick and roll. PJ Tucker, arguably the team’s best frontcourt with the ball, has been limited to just 50 minutes in the series, likely due to what head coach Mike Budenholzer perceives as a foul. This required the Bucks to send additional ball help, which Durant and Kyrie Irving could easily identify and disassemble. Even Antetokunmpo, usually one of the best off-the-ball defenders in the NBA, helped overwhelmingly to shake off the panic over how much damage Durant can do against a single cover:
The Bucks knocked out zone 2-3 in the second game, but had so little practice with this structure that they looked as bewildered as before. It could help hit the minutes of Antetokunmpo and Brook Lopez – his two best rim defenders – instead of resting them at the same time with two of Giannis, Lopez and Tucker staying on the floor all the time. But even that setup would leave Milwaukee vulnerable in the backcourt, where Jrue Holiday and Chris Middleton struggled to contain Kyrie Irving and Joe Harris, and removing Bobby Portis from the frontcourt could require more minutes for Pat Connaughton, Brin Forbes or Jeff Teague. – all non-optimal options.
Perhaps all the bucks are left with is a sub-optimal choice. Holiday and Middleton should move forward better and Antetokounmpo can still reach MVP capacity. But beyond the dominant results of all three, Milwaukee doesn’t have many buttons to press, or presumably a coach willing to press them. It was also the Nets’ merit that they played urgently, increased their defensive efforts and used Milwaukee’s defense with sharp ball movements. They are a far tougher contender than the Bucks in the last two playoffs, and if so, they will be the last team Milwaukee will see ahead of the long offseason.
Can Jazz keep pressing the button?
Perhaps the biggest question Jazz had to answer as he entered the streak was whether his guards could consistently dribble their defenders off to create an open view for themselves or their teammates. If any defense could slow down Utah’s egalitarian attack, it was a game with fit players of the same size who could change the net in all positions and force the handlers to take hard shots on their own. But in the first game of the Western Conference semi-finals, Jazz didn’t seem to have a problem creating quality looks – alone, pick and roll, or anywhere else.
In the absence of Mike Conley, there were only two creators left in Utah who could reliably split and convert dribble shots against a defensive switch. One of the two, Jordan Clarkson, missed all four of his shots within the three-point line, and the other, Donovan Mitchell, added another monumental game to ready-made playoff resume…
More notable than Mitchell’s 45 points in Utah’s victory was how ruthlessly he attacked the weaknesses of the Los Angeles defense. The Jazz pretty much stuck to their attacking system for most of the game, doing multiple moves in each possession, opening the corner shooters with Rudy Gobert’s jumps to the edge and looking for fast threes in the transition. But as they went on, they became more choosy about how and where to attack. Utah has repeatedly picked Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard in pick and roll, forcing them to switch to Mitchell so he can get to work:
In the end, the Clippers attempted to hide Kennard with screens while Mitchell’s defender recovered underneath, but Mitchell still managed to get down, find an open teammate, or rise above Kawhi Leonard from around the perimeter:
Such undeniable success often distinguishes true title contenders from just solid playoff teams. The Clippers will likely try something different against pick and roll in game two, perhaps trapping Mitchell and forcing him to pass under duress. But it runs the risk of one of the NBA’s best passing and shooting teams playing four-on-three in half the field – a scenario that is intended to prevent the Los Angeles move. If Conley returns on this series, the Clippers may have no choice but to live with Mitchell, getting what he wants.
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