Is It Time to Panic in Milwaukee?
Last night’s game should cause some concern for the Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo and company suffered a 115–104 loss to the Miami Heat. Miami now holds a 1–0 series lead; while Milwaukee is that much closer to yet another disappointing postseason finish.
A single playoff loss to the Miami Heat alone wouldn’t ordinarily cause panic for the Bucks. It’s the loss paired with two separate factors that brings the real concern. The first being the way Milwaukee lost this game.
The Bucks showed some glaring issues in their game one defeat to Miami. The major one coming at the free throw line. Milwaukee made just 14–26 free throws (53.8%) in the loss. This was due in large part to Giannis only going 4–12 from the line. While those numbers were atrocious, it wasn’t unlike Milwaukee to struggle. This season the Bucks had the fourth-worst free throw percentage in the NBA (74.2%). Giannis also played a big part in this, shooting an uninspiring 63.3% from the free throw line. This series against Miami figures to contain a bunch of close games. Milwaukee’s inability to close games at the free throw line however, could lead to Miami being the team securing more victories.
Another aspect of the game one loss that should cause Milwaukee to worry is the box score. The Bucks shot a better percentage from the field than Miami (49.3% to 46.4%). They also made more threes (16 to 12) at a better percentage (45.7% to 38.7%) than Miami, who was the second-best three-point shooting team during the regular season. Milwaukee received improved scoring outputs from two of the team’s supporting players as well. Both Khris Middleton (28 points) and Brook Lopez (24 points) outscored their season averages in game one. Despite all this, the Bucks still lost by double-digits. The main reason for this, and the second factor as to why the game one loss should cause panic, is due to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s play against the Heat.
In game one, Giannis was held to just 18 points, a mark well below his 29.5 season average. He also finished the game with six turnovers. Now everybody has a bad game here and there, including superstars. The Heat however, have done this to Giannis before. Earlier in the season during a 105–89 Miami victory, Giannis scored 13 points while having three turnovers. The Heat know how they want to defend Giannis. They’re more than happy to block off the lane and allow him to shoot. If he does make it to the rim, they’ll send him to the free throw line. As long as he’s not dunking or laying the ball in, Miami is fulfilling their game plan. So far it’s working. The Heat have won three of their four matchups against the Bucks this season (including the game one victory). The matchup is favorable for Miami. They have the length and defenders necessary for slowing down Giannis. As of now, the Heat appear to be the favorite in this series.
It would be foolish to completely discount the Bucks however. They did have the best record in the NBA during the regular season. Giannis is likely going to win his second straight MVP award. Milwaukee was also without their starting point guard Eric Bledsoe during game one. His 14.9 points per game, as well as his ability on the defensive side of the ball definitely could’ve helped. The Bucks appeared helpless defending Goran Dragic (27 points) and Jimmy Butler (40 points) in game one. To say Bledsoe likely would’ve slowed down Miami’s scoring some is one thing. To say he would’ve changed the end result is another. Bledsoe appeared in the previous three matchups against Miami, yet the Bucks still lost two.
Game one wasn’t as much about the absence of Bledsoe, as it was about Miami imposing a game plan that’s worked against Milwaukee all season. This series should be a good one; but if the Bucks don’t figure things out soon, then it likely will be their last one.