It’s never smart to overreact to a single loss, especially when it comes in Game 1 of a series. Last year taught us this well – the Toronto Raptors lost their first playoff game and went on to win the title.
But a loss – and more so a couple underwhelming wins – can teach us certain things.
It’s odd to be writing this about the Milwaukee Bucks, who, unlike their opponent in the Miami Heat, lost once against their first round opponent and didn’t look the absolutely dominant team they were during the regular season.
The Heat emerged from the first round against Indiana looking beastly. They swept the Pacers in a series that was expected to go longer and at least be more competitive. Miami dominated the Pacers while the Bucks fell a bit short of expectations.
Orlando beat Milwaukee in Game 1 – and gave them issues throughout the rest of the series – by taking advantage of their lax defense of the three point line. The Magic essentially turned into the Rockets at their worst. They shot threes without any regard for the shot quality or for rhythm. They just chucked them.
At times, it actually worked! They won Game 1 thanks to their shooting, most notably from Nikola Vucevic, who ate up Milwaukee’s typical drop coverage with its center Brook Lopez. Even if Vucevic wasn’t shooting threes, he made the Bucks pay with his mid-ranger. The Bucks were playing so far off him that it actually made the mid-ranger a good shot.
The concerning part is that continually leaving Vucevic open weren’t just mistakes from Milwaukee. They intended to do so, and not because they didn’t respect him as a shooter, but because their scheme relies on protecting the paint. Because it’s their scheme, and is one that worked so well during the regular season, there’s no indication that they’ll adjust.
That is cause for concern against the Heat, who were arguably the best three point shooting team in the league this year depending on how you quantify the Rockets. The Bucks were lucky in a sense that Orlando took a lot of bad threes. The Heat don’t do that, and since Milwaukee isn’t going to pressure them out of their ways, it could spell big trouble.
The Bucks, of course, have counters. First, the Heat are going to play Bam Adebayo at the five when it matters. He’s not a shooting threat (yet – he’ll be unstoppable if he can figure that side of his game out), so they aren’t going to burn Lopez and the Bucks’ bigs like Vuecevic did.
There are times when it could, though. Kelly Olynyk is a sniper, and Erik Spolestra tends to have just one of Adebayo and him out there at a time (Although, the numbers of Olynyk and Adebayo together in the playoffs have been insane, granted it’s only a sample of 13 minutes). The Olynyk-at-the-five lineup could be deadly for the Bucks if they don’t adjust their drop coverage – a couple threes could lead to an extended lead, or even be a dagger if Miami is already ahead.
Still, Adebayo is going to get most of the center minutes, which minimizes the threat against Lopez in drop coverage.
The second Bucks counter is obvious: Giannis Antetokounmpo. Miami is not well-equipped to stop the soon-to-be MVP at all. While Adebayo is a good defensive player, his rim protection isn’t at its ceiling yet (his game is built on switching). Olynyk plays so few minutes because his defense makes him close to unplayable. Miami just doesn’t have a lot of bigs in general, let alone the bigs that Toronto has which slowed Antetokounmpo last year.
Miami probably builds a wall with the likes of Jae Crowder, Andre Igoudala and their bevy of wings, but the size matchup still feels like a problem.
That’s the end-all with Antentokoumnpo. You have to get lucky in order to stop him. Minimizing the impact is all you can really hope for. Miami’s in rough shape when it comes to even doing that. He makes everything else not matter.
Which includes the three point shooting, unless Miami absolutely shoots the lights out four times. Even then, they’re still not stopping Antentkoumpo, and the Bucks have enough firepower to keep up with everyone.
Milwaukee’s defensive tendencies are habits and schemes. They aren’t going to change their ways. Against shooters like Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson, that’s frightening. Robinson is one of the scariest shooters the NBA has seen in awhile – he has the capability to hit 10 threes in any game. Herro can get there as well, though his playmaking has really emerged over the course of bubble play, and lineups that feature him, Jimmy Butler and one of Miami’s point guards is a hassle to defend with all the shot creation present.
Antentokoumpo isn’t at the point yet where we should bet against him, but not making the Finals could guarantee it, and a Finals loss in certain fashions could as well. But the Heat just don’t have any infrastructure that’s going to bring his weaknesses to light. This series is going to be a battle, but Antentokoumpo should be able to win it.
Prediction: Bucks in 7