For seemingly the first time all season, the Milwaukee Bucks are finally staring in the face of adversity. They’re down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals after three losses in a row, and on Saturday night, the series returns to Toronto, where the Raptors have won seven of nine games this postseason.
Long story short, Milwaukee has run into a real problem, and at the center of everything sits the team’s inability to execute in the half court.
The Bucks were the third-best half court offense in the regular season, scoring 1.003 points per half court possession. But in this series, that number has dropped to 0.834 points per half court possession, a number that would have ranked dead last this regular season and each of the last two postseasons.
Milwaukee was able to overcome its half court deficiencies with two excellent transition games to begin the series, outscoring its 1.26 points per play in transition during the regular season, but poor half court performances have sunk the squad in the subsequent three games.
These struggles come despite the Bucks running on 21.3 percent of their possessions in the series, a mark that would tie the 2017 Golden State Warriors for the highest transition frequency in a postseason over the previous four seasons. While getting out and playing with pace is Milwaukee’s bread and butter, however, issues have arisen when Toronto is able to slow them down — here are the Bucks’ offensive numbers categorized by how Toronto finishes an offensive possession.
You can probably guess what the numbers says when you look at Milwaukee’s effective field goal percentage based on how many seconds are remaining on the shot clock when they attempt a shot.
Toronto deserves plenty of credit for these numbers. The Raptors’ half court defense has been committed, first and foremost, to taking away driving lanes and paint opportunities, often crashing multiple guys into the paint on any Giannis Antetokounmpo drive. Watch here as Giannis appears to have an advantage on the decisive rip through move, but is quickly swarmed by four Toronto defenders in the paint.
Toronto is especially keen to help off Eric Bledsoe off ball, throwing his defender into Giannis’ driving lanes and daring Bledsoe to beat them off the catch.
Giannis has often made the correct passes when the defense collapses, but his teammates are shooting a mere 21-for-63 (33.3 percent) from downtown off his potential dimes in the series.
Yet, the swarming defense has impacted the likely MVP’s numbers in the series as well. He is averaging just 23 points per game on 52.8 percent True Shooting. His distribution has taken a hit, as he’s doling out 5.8 assists and 4.6 turnovers per game. Antetokounmpo’s efficiency on playtypes has dipped from the regular season nearly across the board, with particular hits coming on his Isolations and his Post Ups — possessions where he acts as the fulcrum for Milwaukee’s offense.
In addition, he’s shooting a mere 53.1 percent in the paint in the series, a significant drop from the otherworldly 67.6 percent he shot in that area during the regular season. Simply put, Toronto has made half court living hard on the Bucks and their future MVP. The key question facing Mike Budenholzer heading into Game 6 is whether he can make the necessary adjustments to free Giannis and get Milwaukee’s offense back on track.