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How the Milwaukee Bucks Collapsed

The Bucks made another early playoff exit this season, going 4-1 to the Miami Heat. How did the number one team in the league collapse again?

Giannis Antetokounmpo by Keith Allison is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

How the Milwaukee Bucks Collapsed

Estimated Reading Time: 6 Minutes

This week we witnessed quite the upset in the NBA bubble. The Miami Heat defeated the number one seed Milwaukee Bucks 3-1 in the second round of the playoffs. “How the f*ck did that happen?”, I believe, is what I said after game 5. Let’s take a look at how the Bucks collapsed.

Lack of playmaking

Milwaukee’s game was all over the place. Nearly every possession seemed like a struggle after watching the beautiful ball movement displayed by Miami. Although the Bucks have Bledsoe, Hill, and Antetokounmpo, they took a big hit when they traded Malcolm Brogdon to the Indiana Pacers last summer. On The JJ Redick Podcast, Brogdon shared that his decision to move to Indiana was about the role he played.

“I was playing shooting guard with the Bucks. I enjoy playing shooting guard, but scoring is not my main thing on the court, it’s actually not what I want to do. That’s not my first option. I want to get guys involved. I want to win, I feel like I’m a winner above everything else and I compete on both ends. And Indiana brings the best out of me, when you look at what I just talked about. Putting me in the point guard position, it allows me to play in my role, in my position, and lead.”

Malcolm Brogdon on The JJ Redick Podcast

Side note: I highly recommend watching/listening to the whole episode. Brogdon shares his thoughts about the current Black Lives Matter movement, his role and history as an activist, and how we can be better allies to the Black community. The Turf also has some great reads, wink wink.

Brogdon’s departure was Bledsoe’s chance to step up, and he, unfortunately, hasn’t done that. In the series against Miami, Bledsoe’s average field goal percentage was 32%, and probably nearly half of that on jumpers. He also lacks the “vision” the Bucks need down the stretch or…ever. Antetokounmpo is soon to be the two-time league MVP – of course the opponent’s defense is going to hound him. The Bucks need a cerebral point guard to get everyone on the floor involved, create shots, and not do this:

Failure to adapt

How does the league’s number one team just barely miss getting swept in the second round of the playoffs? Failure to adapt. We saw this in last year’s playoff series against the Toronto Raptors as well. Last season, the Raptors came back from a 2-0 deficit to defeat the Bucks and later went on to win the championship. How did they do that? They adapted.

The Bucks’ regular season game consists of Giannis driving hard into the paint and either scoring or kicking the ball out to a shooter (Middleton, Lopez, etc.). The shooter typically has a wide open look because multiple defenders are tasked with stopping the freight train that is Giannis Antetokounmpo. But once teams tighten up the screws and figure out how to effectively guard Giannis and contest shots at the perimeter, the Bucks don’t seem to have any other tricks.

During the regular season, the Bucks had the most dominant defense in the league, though an unusual one. The Bucks defense was designed to shut down their opponents in the paint, no matter what. This meant giving up more 3-point shot attempts, which worked well for them thanks to Lopez (both of ’em) and Antetokounmpo. However, adjustments must be made depending on your opponents and the Bucks failed to do that with the Miami Heat. When the Bucks continued to put emphasis on their defense in the paint, players like Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, and Jae Crowder were able to capitalize.


Perhaps most importantly, the Bucks were out-coached, plain and simp. Erik Spoelstra is an incredible coach, there’s no doubt about that. He has two NBA championships and a team that nearly swept the number one team in the league to prove it.

We watched Mike Budenholzer get out-coached by Nick Nurse in last year’s playoffs when the Raptors defeated the Bucks, and we watched it again this season. Budenholzer continued to make extremely questionable decisions throughout the series.

Firstly, his load management of his key players, especially Antetokounmpo. Tell me why Giannis only played four minutes in the third game of this series. If my team is down 2-0 and losing in the fourth quarter, you’d better believe I’m playing my best player at least 40 minutes. Sure, maybe if Giannis was older I’d want to rest him, but he’s 25 for crying out loud! Middleton was playing limited minutes as well, until he was forced to play 48 minutes in the fourth game in Giannis’ absence. And wouldn’t you know it? They won. Secondly, why wasn’t Giannis guarding Jimmy Butler the whole time? Butler was and is a superstar who’s scoring 40 points on your team. Put the Defensive Player of the Year on him from the beginning. Butler proved to be lethal no matter what, but this decision had me scratching my head for sure.

Giannis needs: to be better and better help

I just want you to know that I typed that while wearing a robe and eating spaghetti in my bed. I know how ridiculous it is for me to say that Giannis, soon-to-be two-time MVP needs to be better. However, I’m still gonna say it.

Antetokounmpo is an amazing player, absolutely. But he’s not a shooter, and the league is a shooter’s league now. He’s good at getting his guys good looks, but only in one way. He lacks a versatility that seems necessary given the league and given his teammates.

That being said, he needs better help. Middleton is fantastic, but I just don’t think the team will be able to make a serious run at the championship if he’s the second best player. Get Giannis a play-making star point guard and Budenholzer to make better playoff decisions and we’re in business.

Antetokounmpo will remain with the Bucks next season and will be eligible for a super-max contract this offseason. He said he has no intention of leaving the Bucks, but how much will the superstar be able to take if his championship dreams continue to be dashed?

Jamie is an actress, bar manager (and frequenter), beauty blogger, INFP, and of course, NBA fanatic living in Los Angeles. She spends most of her free time curating her Spotify playlists, eating Korean BBQ with her boyfriend, and deciding what color lipstick to wear.

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