The Milwaukee Bucks blew a massive first quarter lead and nearly faltered in the end, but came up clutch down the stretch to prevent themselves from falling to an impossible 3-0 hole in their second round series against the Brooklyn Nets. It certainly looked like another one of those playoff meltdowns from Milwaukee after Kevin Durant capped off his own personal flurry with a huge 3-pointer with over minute remaining to give Brooklyn a three point lead. The Bucks, however, put together a 6-0 run to close the game, highlighted by Jrue Holiday’s go-ahead layup with 11.4 seconds to go.
It took a pretty special evening from the Bucks’ star duo to overcome a relatively subpar outing from Durant, who only got going in the fourth quarter. Giannis Antetokounmpo (33) and Khris Middleton (35) combined for 68 of Milwaukee’s 86 points.
Despite the season-saving win, the Bucks still have a lot of things to iron out if they still want to make this a series or have any hope to take down the mighty Nets. It’s going to be a tall task, especially since Brooklyn played without one of their stars in James Harden. Nevertheless, it’s definitely still doable. Milwaukee certainly took the right step in Game 3, but will need to emphasize these adjustments much further as the series moves forward to a must-win Game 4.
Feature Giannis Antetokounmpo as the roll man
The Bucks found a lot of success whenever they ran pick-and-rolls with Antetokounmpo as the roll man, with either Khris Middleton or Jrue Holiday making the decisions with the basketball. Milwaukee honestly needs to spam this as much as possible in their half court sets. More often than not, Milwaukee is able to generate much better looks on offense with Giannis setting the pick and rolling to the basket. He is a much better threat this way than him dribbling from the perimeter.
Antetokounmpo being the primary ball handler makes the Bucks offense so much more predictable because Brooklyn knows he’s just going to try bully his way inside. The Nets are able to read this much easier since they just need to pack the paint and force The Greek Freak into a tough shot or a tough pass to the outside. With Antetokounmpo as the roller, this forces the defense to make a decision on how to defend the pick-and-roll as Middleton and Holiday are as deadly threats when they have the ball in their hands.
That Middleton mid-range J or floater, which the 2-time All-Star has mastered throughout his career, has always been there and it’s definitely a much better shot than the contested isolation jumpers he takes in the post. Though he’s struggling from the field this series, Holiday is also adept at running this and could find his rhythm by getting more decent looks at the basket. Should defenders overcommit to the ballhandler, Middleton and Holiday have an unstoppable 6-foot-11 Greek Freak running down the lane that they can feed the ball to. These should be easy pickings for the 2-time NBA MVP with Brooklyn lacking in rim protection.
More movement on offense
This entails both people movement and ball movement. Milwaukee’s offense comes to a stand still whenever Antetokounmpo isolates at the top of the key or Middleton goes for his post-ups on the wings. First of all, these isolation possessions shouldn’t happen often whenever Milwaukee gets into their half court sets. And if they do, there should be some kind of action to free up an open shooter from the outside or a cutter to the basket.
Furthermore, as mentioned, it’s going to be much better for Milwaukee when they run their pick-and-roll sets with Antetokounmpo as the roller. This two-man game can create much more options for them on offense and could possibly also get better shots for their “others” to get them going in this series. Of course, this will entail Middleton or Holiday making the right reads depending on how Brooklyn defends the PnR. The Bucks will definitely need their supporting cast to step up if they want to put up a legitimate fight against this juggernaut Nets squad. Opening up their perimeter shooters such as Bryn Forbes, who was terrific against the Miami Heat, P.J. Tucker, and Brook Lopez must be in their game plan for Game 4.
Milwaukee had just 12 assists on 34 made field goals on Thursday and is averaging just over 15 assists per game in this series. Their low assist tally suggests there isn’t much man and ball movement to generate easy looks. This number needs to go up and it starts with incorporating more movement and flow in the offense.
No more threes for Antetokounmpo
Antetokounmpo taking a 3-pointer six seconds into the shot clock has been happening way too often in this series. This should honestly be banned from the Bucks game plan completely. Why he keeps on taking them and is even allowed to take them (I’m looking at you, Mike Budenholzer), nobody knows.
And they aren’t completely wide open threes, either, or are they within the flow of the offense. Sometimes, he takes semi-contested ones that more often than not results in a brick that makes Bucks Nation’s ears bleed. Every possession matters in the postseason and Antetokounmpo taking these triples early in the clock just wastes scoring opportunities for Milwaukee.
Giannis is a combined 4-of-32 from beyond the arc in the 2021 NBA playoffs. It’s clear the three just isn’t there for him yet and it’s not a weapon he can rely on consistently, especially in the postseason. Antetokounmpo should completely abandon this for the rest of this series if the Bucks want any chance against the Nets. He should start living in the paint or perhaps take two steps inside the arc to take a mid-range jumper that he is more comfortable with.
As hinted above, head coach Mike Budenholzer should step in and tell his superstar wing to stop taking these 3-pointers, unless it’s at the end of a shot clock or something. The Bucks are much better off getting into a pick-and-roll or any kind of action that involves Giannis getting closer to the basket than him pulling for a 3-pointer. Sure, the Nets will likely give him that shot all day long and dare him to take those, but Antetokounmpo or the Bucks shouldn’t give them any favors by settling for these threes.
So, sorry Giannis, no more threes for you.