After the Milwaukee Bucks went into halftime with a 14-point lead, they extended their lead to 16 early in the third quarter. Then, however, Kevin Durant led the Brooklyn Nets back into the game. They eventually took the lead in the fourth quarter and held off Milwaukee for a Game Five win. The Nets now lead the series 3-2, and the Bucks face going home early for the third straight postseason.
Many fans and analysts, while acknowledging the greatness of Durant’s performance, point to the poor coaching of Mike Budenholzer as the reason the Bucks lost the game. Budenholzer’s lack of in-game adjustments has been a frustration for three years now. If Budenholzer had done any of these three things, the outcome of the game may have been very different.
Adjustment #1- Let Giannis Guard Durant
When the Bucks acquired PJ Tucker earlier this season, the receiver a self-proclaimed Durant-stopper. However, it was clear in Game Five that Tucker was not going to be enough. Budenholzer had Jrue Holiday take some turns covering KD. He even allowed Pat Connaughton to attempt to slow him. However, he should have made Giannis Antetokuonmpo the primary defender on the lone Nets’ superstar who was healthy.
There is no denying the fact that PJ Tucker is a good defender. However, Giannis won Defensive Player of the Year last season. He is certainly more than capable, skill-wise, to guard KD. In addition, Durant’s length and long wingspan make his jump shot unguardable for anyone shorter than him.
He is such a pure shooter, it is difficult for even a 7-foot center to disrupt his shot. Giannis, himself, is nearly seven feet tall and stood the best chance of at least slowing KD down.
Of course, this did not happen, and Durant put up one of the greatest stat lines in post-season history. If Giannis does not guard him for most of Game Six, it will be absolutely befuddling.
Adjustment #2- Play Bobby Portis
Absent from the action in Game Five was Bucks’ sixth man Bobby Portis. The backup center was reportedly kept out due to spacing concerns. Portis is not known for his defense and likely would not have been able to have much of an effect on Durant. However, Portis’s importance to the Bucks does not lie in his defense.
This season, Portis was among the league leaders in three-point shooting. All series long, the Bucks have struggled with their shooting, Portis included. That being said, shooters need to shoot themselves out of slumps. Portis certainly could have provided a scoring boost, especially late in the game when the Nets trimmed the lead and started pulling away.
In addition to his offense, Portis provides the Bucks with a nasty attitude that inspires the rest of the team. Yes, Giannis has his mean mug, but Portis is the embodiment of that mug. Before the season began, Portis said that he pretends that each of his opponents just punched his mother in the mouth, and goes at them accordingly.
When the Nets were storming back, Milwaukee needed that meanness. There is absolutely no reason Portis should be on the bench in Game Six, and Game Five proved why.
Adjustment #3- Stop Calling Isolation Plays
When the Milwaukee Bucks were in control of the game, it was because of their ball movement. When the second half started, Coach Budenholzer started calling isolation plays on offense. Giannis, Jrue Holiday, and Khris Middleton constantly dribbled for a few seconds before hoisting up contested jump shots with 14 seconds or more left on the clock. The poor shot selection allowed the Nets to narrow the gap, and eventually pull away enough to win.
The Milwaukee Bucks have talented players, both in the starting lineup and the bench. Ball movement with any combination of their top eight or nine players on the court will lead to points. Isolation plays lead to poor contested shots that just do not go in; they need to stop.
In addition to the above adjustments, Coach Budenholzer should have done the following:
- Attack James Harden. Harden played in Game Five but was a non-factor. His hamstring is not healed and he cannot move as well as before. Make him backpedal and work on defense. There is no reason to give him relief by isolating him from other defenders.
- Stop double-teaming Durant. Kevin Durant is going to score; there is no getting around that. However, double-teaming him and leaving shooters alone in the corner spots for wide-open three-pointers is more detrimental than whatever two-point shot KD might attempt. Simply put, the Bucks need to trust one another on defense and do their own jobs.