The easy opinion going into the Milwaukee Bucks first round matchup with the Boston Al Horfords is that superior talent will win the day, perhaps in as few as five games. This has generated some resistance in national NBA circles with many believing that the Bucks’ inconsistency and often ill-advised defensive aggression will open up what would otherwise be a stagnant Boston offense. The 2-2 season split doesn’t amount to much as only the final meeting had the teams resembling what they will be in this series. We have seen Joe Prunty’s team oscillate between a more conservative defense and the pick & roll-trapping, post-doubling scheme of old. So who knows what to expect in the series? Breaking down the final regular-season meeting and some relevant numbers might help.
April 3rd Matchup, Bucks win 106-102
Coming after about as emotionally draining a loss as you can imagine, it was nice to see the Bucks close this game out even as the Celtics made a run towards the end. Rewatching the game for this preview, a few things stuck out.
The Dreaded DHO Pindowns
The Celtics got a lot of production from dribble hand-off pindowns on the sideline (picture the Giannis to Snell hand-off play the Bucks run only extended closer to the backcourt). The one handing it off was usually a big and gave the ball to either Tatum or Brown for a slightly-above-the-break three or a tight curl into the lane. This relatively simple action gave the Bucks a lot of problems as they too often found themselves picking their poison between an open three and an easy pocket pass to a dunk.
The Celtics–typical of Boston–get the most out of this by setting great screens and angling their runs to leave little room for the defender to get over. What seems effective in mitigating these and other Boston screen actions is switching, hedging the would-be ball handler, and tagging the roll man. Trapping or dropping too far back on the initial action led to a no-win situation.
Giannis, Let Loose (Okay Not Too Loose)
Early turnovers in the April 3rd game seemed to make Antetokounmpo more tentative when driving and resulted in him settling for jumpers. In the first quarter, Boston generated a seemingly endless stream takeaways with strip steals and general sloppiness on the part of the Bucks: this starting success is what allowed them to stay in the game. Giannis made an undue contribution to this in the early going.
He still had a phenomenal game with 29 points on 50% shooting but his indecisiveness led to many empty possessions. With Giannis operating at playoff intensity, look for him to get in the lane and to the line more often, while being more aware of the strong-side help.
Switch Heavily, Help Lightly
It might take unlearning years of defensive instruction but the Bucks best defensive option is to switch liberally on the perimeter. Bledsoe and Brogdon can capably defend much bigger opponents and Giannis has been ridiculously effective against Boston’s wing threats. Additionally, it would be a shame to waste the Bucks perimeter defensive talent at the lead guard on what will be a sub-par Celtics point guard rotation. If Boston can best Milwaukee with isolation post-ups throughout the series then you’ll simply have to tip your hat to their making hay with one of basketball’s worst shots.
Bucks Vs Celtics 1st Round Series Preview
The Bucks have the talent edge by a mile in this series, but even an average team that’s well-coached can exploit mistakes the Bucks often make defensively. Minimizing these errors will be the difference.
By: Daniel Gaenslen