Mike Budenholzer’s message for his team before Game 3 was simple.
“We just need to score more,” Budenholzer said. “There are areas where you can attack and the paint is certainly one of them, but generally, I think it’s more now we need to find a way to score and be better offensively.”
The Bucks managed to win on Thursday, but they didn’t end up scoring any more. In fact, Milwaukee scored just 86 points for a second straight game against the Nets. While that tally led to a 39-point loss on Thursday, they managed to pull out a 86-83 victory in Game 3 by putting together their best defensive performance of the series and eking out a victory. While Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo explained that “a win is a win” after Game 3, the Bucks will struggle to win another game in this series against the Nets, the league’s best offense per 100 possessions in the regular season, without putting together a more complete offensive performance.
If the Bucks want to score more, here are the three most important things they need to do offensively.
The Nets have disrupted the Bucks’ offensive rhythm throughout the series by switching everything, but one of the few things the Nets do not switch is pick-and-roll action involving Antetokounmpo. In those situations, the Nets play a deep drop coverage, reminiscent of what the Bucks do defensively with Brook Lopez. Antetokounmpo’s defender (typically Blake Griffin) drops deep into the lane to take away the roll from Antetokounmpo, while the man defending the ballhandler fights over the top of the screen from Antetokounmpo.
The Bucks hammered the pick-and-roll set with Khris Middleton and Antetokounmpo in Game 3. The logic behind their decision was simple.
“Our two best players are Khris and Giannis,” Budenholzer said on Saturday. “They got a lot of history, a lot of reps, a lot of success together. No matter how they’re guarded, I think they’ve seen almost everything. Hopefully the court is spaced. They play a few different spots with a little bit different spacing. And they just have a good feel. And, again, it’s just two really good players and a two-man game in this league is tough.”
While Middleton and Antetokounmpo have seen a wide range of defensive coverages while running pick-and-roll together.
While Middleton getting to a comfortable mid-range look is not necessarily a bad shot, it is the shot the Nets have the least problem giving up. Middleton made a respectable 47 percent of his mid-range looks this season, so he can knock them down, but the very nature of that type of shot limits the potential efficiency of the Bucks’ offense. By chasing Middleton from behind and keeping him from taking a pull-up 3, the Nets have taken one of Middleton’s most dangerous weapons off the table and forced him into their preferred location. (Note: If any of that reasoning sounds familiar, it is the theoretical underpinning of the Bucks’ drop pick-and-roll coverage.)
The Bucks, however, do not run pick-and-rolls to get Middleton jump shots; their goal in running pick-and-roll is creating an advantage for Antetokounmpo to attack the basket.
“Essentially, it’s unstoppable when Giannis is downhill,” Bucks guard Jrue Holiday explained on Saturday. “So I think for me, the biggest part is getting Giannis downhill with a full head of steam and making a decision. He’s either going to dunk the ball or make a play for somebody else.”
One of the problems with the middle pick-and-roll when Middleton is involved, though, is the Nets have seen it enough times that they know where to station help defenders to prevent Antetokounmpo from getting downhill to destroy the rim. His roll can still be effective, but the explosiveness has been neutered.