In my latest podcast I talked about how the Celtics were a bad matchup for the Bucks. I also weaseled out of making a prediction since I was torn between both teams. All season I thought the Bucks were the team that had the best on-court fit in the eastern conference. A 5-out motion offense built around Giannis with shooting at every position. Brook Lopez became instrumental with his floor spacing ability and paint protection on defense. Even with having arguably the best player going in the league, the best record in the league, a top five offensive and defensive efficiency and a great coach, I wasn’t confident picking them over the Celtics. A Celtics team a lot of people wrote off before the playoffs started, and with some justification of course. They haven’t been on the same page all season, injuries have taken a toll and players haven’t progressed like they should’ve. I still like the Celtics because of how they are designed; a pick-and-roll mismatch problem at center, a slashing scoring three point shooting point guard with big switchable wings. That type of team design is built well for the postseason.
The regular season isn’t the playoffs. It isn’t about doing one thing great, it’s about versatility. Yes, the Bucks are a great defensive team but they were built primarily around a contain first pick-and-roll coverage. In the playoffs you need to be diverse enough to cover pick-and-roll’s every which way. Brook Lopez is great at one type of pick-and-roll coverage but can he hedge? Switch? And cover space in a timely matter? That was my issue going into this series. That was why I couldn’t in good faith pick the Bucks over the Celtics. Game one confirmed my suspicion and if the Bucks don’t make the necessary adjustments they will lose this series.
To start off the game the Celtics had Horford defend Giannis. They did the same thing to Ben Simmons last postseason. Although, the difference is the Celtics are playing tighter gap protection on Giannis’ drives.
In the first play you have Jayson Tatum leaving his man along the perimeter to shadow Giannis with the help of Kyrie Irving, Marcus Morris hugging the lane line to shrink space. The next play you have Giannis in transition with Horford guarding him, Irving shadowing him, Morris in the middle of the paint and Tatum taking a dig at him from the corner. The Celtics were keying in on Giannis.
The Celtics would also put Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris on Giannis when Horford was on the bench. Horford actually did a good job cutting off driving angles and giving help defense time to crash down. Boston was ok taking an extra step in on Giannis while giving extra space to the Bucks shooters. Whether that’s because Malcolm Brogdon is hurt and they are giving his replacement Sterling Brown license to drive.
Or they don’t trust players like Pat Connaughton, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez, Nikola Mirotic and Ersan Ilyasova to torch them from three and attack closeouts.
The Celtics were switching on most ball screens and then would revert back to safer matchups on the weak side. The Bucks did headhunt on occasion looking for better cross matchups like Terry Rozier defending Giannis but rarely did they go to that. That should be something the Bucks try to exploit more in game two. Overall game one the Bucks stuck with what they knew best. They’re going to have to trust their shooters moving forward even if they miss open shots. Those shooters are paramount for Milwaukee’s floor balance. I would like to see DJ Wilson get more playing time. I think his length and athleticism at the forward/center position can help in terms of positional versatility. Until they get Brogdon back, they will be lacking another creator on offense and players like Pat Connaughton will have to play major minutes even though they’re struggling just to defend Boston’s point of attack offense. Brook Lopez will have to make open threes while Bledsoe will have to be better off the bounce if they want this to be a competitive series.
Rudy Gobert and Brook Lopez are great drop coverage defenders. During the regular season you can rely on that to win defensive player of the year and be apart of a top five defense. Come playoff time it’s about versatility and how well you can cover space.
The Bucks were containing most everything on ball screens and hardly stunted at the shooter left open. If Horford can make that above the break three consistently the Bucks will have to make adjustments asap. Lopez, Mirotic and Ilyasova can’t cover ground as fast as they need to versus the Celtics ball screen motion offense.
The Celtics were bending the Bucks defense all game and making them scramble on exploitable matchups.
That’s part of the reason why I think DJ Wilson should play more game two. He has the lateral movement to stay on switches and good change of direction ability to cover space in a timely matter. It doesn’t help when, at times, the Bucks were struggling to contain dribble penetration, were slow to matchup and had poor communication.
This was my overall fear coming into this series and it played out terribly for the Bucks.
The Bucks are obviously not out of it yet. They have to do a better job headhunting on offense, making open threes, stunting at the pick-and-pop shooter and covering space on defense. Hopefully it’s not a little too late when Malcolm Brogdon comes back, he could be the difference maker the Bucks need to help with continuity. Until then however Eric Bledsoe will have to step up his role on offense. I said whoever wins this series will win the eastern conference and I stand by that claim. Unless the Bucks make the correct adjustments, the Celtics could be that team.