The Milwaukee Bucks will look to get back into this series tonight
The Phoenix Suns have taken a 2-0 series lead and pushed the Bucks into a deep, dark hole. The Bucks have had one of the best offensive ratings throughout the entire season but lately the numbers look anemic. The highest-scoring team in the regular season (120.1 ppg) is currently averaging 106.5 ppg in the Finals. Yikes!
Giannis Antetokounmpo had an almost career-altering knee injury when he hyperextended it against the Hawks in Game 5 of the ECF. He rested it for the remainder of the series and Coach Bud leaned on his other stars, Middleton and Holiday, to carry them into the Finals. Middleton, Holiday, and the rest of the Bucks supporting cast played well in Games 6 and 7, a perfect wave of momentum to ride into the Finals, right?
Apparently, wrong. Very wrong. Despite his injury, Giannis has been playing pretty damn well even though he's clearly not 100%. He's carried his team on both sides of the ball in the first two games. 20 points in Game 1 and 42 points in Game 2 while cleaning up the boards and tallying blocks and steals. His teammates on the other hand have been reported to the Milwaukee Police Department as 'missing.'
Milk Carton Stars
Jrue Holiday has been on, well, what Europeans call holiday (vacation, if you missed the bad joke) for the first two games, shooting a combined 11-35. Khris Middleton has been marginally better. He led the team in scoring with 29 in Game 1 but it took 26 shots to get there. Game 2 was rough, shooting 5-16 to finish with 11 points. All while not even attempting a single free throw. It's safe to say Holiday and Middleton need to follow their leader's actions and be more aggressive. Holiday can use his size and strength to get downhill on Phoenix's weaker guards and Middleton can get going towards the rim to hopefully earn some looks at the charity stripe.
This is a bit tough to look at for Bucks fans. The Bucks were a top 5 deep ball team during the regular season, clocking in at 38.9%. During the playoffs, they are well below their average and sitting at 31.7%. With the exception of Lopez and Connaughton, everyone is coming in under their average. Just a slight uptick would pay off in a big way for Milwaukee. Give credit to Phoenix for playing great defense and closing out hard on the perimeter. They've been a good defensive team all season and continue to show it in the postseason.
Attack the Interior
Ayton does a good job protecting the rim but it's hard to do it for an entire game. Dario Saric is out with a torn ACL, so the Suns reserves just got a lot smaller. Utilize Giannis, Lopez, Middleton, and Holiday to attack the basket and put Ayton in foul trouble. They have the size to create problems for the Suns frontcourt, but Coach Bud has opted to play small ball at times in hopes of energizing the offense and defending the pick-and-roll.
Don't think I was only going to harp on the offense! The pick-and-roll has been shredding the Bucks defense. CP3 is taking full advantage of the switching defense...and when they are not switching and having Lopez drop back, he's still torching them. In Game 1, CP3 shot 12-19, 9 of those buckets came on switches or Lopez dropping back too far. It's no easy task covering an all-time great in Paul, but one solution could be to latch Holiday on him for longer stretches. He's stronger and faster and can fight through screens better while either Lopez or Giannis staying home. Alternatively, the big men could hedge and recover hard, allowing the guards some time. Unfortunately, every defensive scheme has its weaknesses and there is no perfect solution. But, overall, the defense has not been bad.
At the end of the day, the Bucks need to score the basketball like they were in the regular season. Then, maybe the Sun will fear the deer.
Game 3 tips off at 8 PM ET!