Things did not look good for the Milwaukee Bucks in their 115-107 Game 1 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night.
The final score won’t suggest it, but the Nets looked like they were in cruise control the entire way. This doesn’t bode well for the Bucks, especially since Brooklyn essentially played without star shooting guard James Harden who left 43 seconds into the game due to a hamstring strain. Harden’s status for the rest of this series is still up in the air, but if The Beard does come back, that could spell doom for Milwaukee.
Nonetheless, this is a seven-game series after all. The Bucks can still make adjustments to turn this back into their favor, but they should start executing in Game 2.
3. Generate better looks from the perimeter
The Bucks shot a paltry 6-of-30 from 3-point country in Game 1. Shooting 20 percent from deep definitely isn’t ideal, especially if you’re facing an offensive juggernaut like Brooklyn. Khris Middleton clanked all his five 3-point attempts, while Jrue Holiday made just 2-of-7 from deep.
Bryn Forbes, Milwaukee’s 3-point specialist off the bench and had a magnificent shooting series against the Heat, was limited to a 2-of-8 shooting night and 1-of-5 from three.
As the saying goes, “it’s a make or miss league.” The Bucks will probably get those shots to go down eventually, but they will need them to fall as soon as Game 2 since they cannot afford to go down 2-0 against a star-studded Nets squad. Still, Milwaukee–who ranked fifth in 3-point percentage in the regular season at 38.9 percent–cannot rely on the law of averages to save them.
To be fair to Brooklyn’s defense, they did a good job with their rotations and did well with their contests. Thus, the Bucks should do a much better job in getting the ball moving on the perimeter. They need to be much more crisp and quicker with their decision-making on their passes to generate better looks for their shooters.
To their credit, Milwaukee took advantage of its size and muscled its way inside, scoring 72 points in the paint. This is something the Bucks should continue doing in Game 2 if they want to steal one on the road before going back to Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo did a great job dominating inside, making all but three of his 16 made field goals in the paint. Brook Lopez also proved to be a problem down low, making easy buckets at the cup.
If the Bucks shoot better from deep, this should open up the paint even more for Milwaukee.
2. Better rotations on defense
On the one hand, Milwaukee should be better on the other side of the ball, particularly with regards to their rotations on defense. Brooklyn did a good job moving the ball around to find the open man and this often generated clean looks for their shooters on the perimeter. Overall, the Nets were able to hoist up 40 triples and drained 15 of them, good for a 37.5 percent clip from downtown.
The Bucks need to improve on that end of the floor to prevent easy threes for the Nets. They need to offer more resistance and close out better on Brooklyn’s shooters such as Joe Harris, who drained five 3-pointers on Saturday. It would be much better to force these guys to put the ball on the floor and make a decision on the fly rather than comfortably pulling for a clean look from three.
3. Play their stars more
Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer has often been criticized for not playing his stars more in the postseason when it matters most. Game 1 showed pretty much the same trend. According to Dave DuFour of The Athletic, these were the minutes the Nets stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving played through three quarters compared to Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Holiday and Lopez.
Minutes played heading into the 4th
KD 33Kyrie 34
Middleton 28Giannis 27Jrue 31Brook 22
Let’s see if Bud’s gamble has paid off.
— Dave DuFour (@DaveDuFourNBA) June 6, 2021
Rookie coach Steve Nash rolled with his two stars for pretty much the entire contest, while Budenholzer opted to go with his bench for a good 7 to 8-minute stretch. Every possession in the postseason is important and a mere two-minute stretch could become the major difference in a tight game.
It’s the playoffs. They’re already facing arguably their biggest challenge on the way to a championship. There’s no reason for Budenholzer to hold out his stars for that long of a period. He needs to realize he has to play his big guns now more than ever.
In addition, Budenholzer really needs to tighten his rotation. That’s what he did in the previous series versus the Heat, but he seemed to veer away from that in Game 1. Specifically, Jeff Teague cannot see 14 minutes on the floor anymore. If Bud is not going to make adjustments, Antetokounmpo and the rest of the guys need to put their stamp on and demand to play more.