NBA playoffs: how the Bucks play the Nets

NEW YORK – Just days ago, before the Brooklyn Nets twice beat the Milwaukee Bucks more and more violently, people wanted to know more about DeAndre Jordan. A reporter asked Nets coach Steve Nash about the veterans center in practice last Friday and again just before kickoff on Saturday. Jordan had started all three regular season clashes, including a pair in Milwaukee in early May. Apart from a few minutes in Denver, he hadn’t played since.

Nash was shy. He said Jordan was “on the line”, but it was a “see how it goes” situation. In Brooklyn’s 125-86 win on Monday, which featured a full nine minutes of wasted time, Jordan – the tallest player on the roster, the only ‘real’ center after James Harden’s trade sent Jarrett Allen to Cleveland and the sudden retirement of LaMarcus Aldridge – was the only Net who didn’t take court. No one is asking about him now.

A less determined coaching staff might have started Jordan in Game 1. When he was on the court this season, the Nets were an above-average defensive rebound team; when he was on the bench, they were horrible. He can catch lobs, set solid screens, and call out every opponent’s play. Jordan could have reprized his role as the main defender against Giannis Antetokounmpo, in which his job was to stay between the back-to-back MVP and the paint, essentially challenging him to settle for jumpers. Instead, Nash continued to bet on speed, spacing, and change in size and strength.

The Nets get everything they could hope for from Blake Griffin, who started his career alongside Jordan as a traditional power forward in Los Angeles, became an All-NBA point forward in Detroit and went on recently reinvented as smallball 5 Bruce Brown, the playmaker turned center, thrives as a roller man and wreaks havoc on the defensive end. Nicolas Claxton, who still only has 54 games of NBA experience to his credit, these playoffs included, seems more versatile than ever. Never mind that Brooklyn didn’t have Jeff Green glue.

Had they played against Jordan, the Nets would have effectively limited themselves to traditional pick-and-roll coverage and a 4-strikeout attack, at least when Jordan is not used in. “Delay” action at the top of the key. Brooklyn might have been able to win playing this way, but it would have been easier for Milwaukee to park center Brook Lopez in the paint on defense, free their shooters and force the Nets to do some tough spins. If styles make fights, then why would Brooklyn accept the Bucks’ preferred terms of engagement? By committing to the change schedule they’ve been working on all season, they’ve turned an elite regular-season offense into a shell on its own.

“I think we’re just playing in their hands, one-on-one,” said Khris Middleton of Milwaukee. “I think that’s what the change does. It forces you to get out of your sets and play one-on-one. We always have to find a way to be aggressive, to drive the ball and to play a game. little more with the pass. “

The Nets aren’t an incredible defensive team, but Joe Harris said they’ve played “some of the best possessions, quarterbacks we’ve had all season” in terms of intensity and attention to detail. When Antetokounmpo missed a turnaround jump against Griffin early in Game 2, Lopez managed to pull the rebound to the perimeter, creating another isolation of Antetokounmpo. Brown performed a perfect search when Antetokounmpo entered his spinning motion, then shot back to the perimeter to challenge Middleton’s 3 point. It was as if he was in two places at once.

Lopez and Jrue Holiday essentially attributed the Bucks’ poor shot in Game 1 of the series to bad luck, both insisting that they would be better next time around. The truth, however, is that they did not value property. They were even worse in Game 2, after which Holiday lamented that they “got a little too selfish”, took “hard knocks, challenged by two, sometimes three people” and missed most of their 3s “because that we didn’t have that many wide open. ”

Brooklyn has no such problems against the Milwaukee defense. The Bucks have played with a change everything schedule this season and have varied their coverage much more than in previous years. They are always more comfortable, however, dropping their fat to the bottom of the painting. In the first round against the Miami Heat, they managed to neutralize Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo in this way. It doesn’t work against Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

The Nets are making Milwaukee pay for relying heavily on Lopez, great replacement Bobby Portis and goaltender Bryn Forbes. Brown said he loves it when teams put crosses on him because he knows they’re going to fall and a good screen will create an easy look every time.

With Forbes on him, Nets sniper Landry Shamet picked all-stars and three separate times got an open 3.

“They got everything they wanted, the way they wanted it, whether it was with the practices, with the ISOs, with the swings and the extra assists,” said Middleton. “We have to find a way to eliminate most of these things, just force them where we want them to go instead of dictating them on the offensive and defensive side.”

That’s why some analysts have questioned the signings of Forbes, Portis and Jeff Teague and coach Mike Budenholzer’s relative reluctance to use PJ Tucker in the middle. Unlike the Los Angeles Clippers, the Bucks can’t easily take their little pointers and big ones out of the picture for long stretches, especially with Donte DiVincenzo sidelined. Their struggles, however, cannot be pinned down to list building alone. Not when the Nets miss Harden. Not when Milwaukee doesn’t punish them for playing Irving, Shamet, and Mike James together. Not after the shorthanded Boston Celtics targeted Brooklyn’s weaker defenders much more effectively.

The disappointing part is that Milwaukee was meant to be different this time around. He made a huge investment in Holiday, traded for Tucker, fine-tuned offense and experimented with defense in an effort to be more playoff-ready. When Budenholzer threw a 2-3 zone in the second quarter on Monday, the bet was just as desperate as the ill-fated forays into change in the 2019 conference final. The Nets deserve immense credit for bending the Bucks to their will. , but they’re not doing anything Milwaukee hasn’t seen before. There is no excuse for being so confused. If Budenholzer does not find solutions before Game 3 on Thursday, he will have to face some extremely difficult questions.

A hypothesis to think about by then: if Budenholzer’s staff coached the Brooklyn team, would Jordan have started Game 1?

About Marc Womack

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