Miami Heat lost to the Milwaukee Bucks after Giannis Antetokounmpo re-injured his ankle on Sunday afternoon. Forced to adjust on the fly Mike Budenholzer flipped the switch on how to successfully counter ball movement by the Heat. In 2014-15 his Atlanta Hawks team won 60 games during the regular season with motion offense as illustrated by this video below.
However the Cleveland Cavaliers countered that game plan by getting physical, “Of course, Budenholzer’s skill at the blackboard could not overcome LeBron James in the Eastern Conference finals or do much about the Hawks getting manhandled on the defensive glass.”
Looking at the box score of the Heat’s playoff loss, the leading rebounder for the Bucks was the 6’1” guard Eric Bledsoe with ten boards. Their center Brook Lopez had only 3 rebounds on defense in 42 minutes on the court. However as a team the smaller Bucks out-hustled the Heat on defense as hinted by their 46 to 41 edge on the glass.
The Heat shared the ball beautifully with 33 assists compared to 25 for the Bucks. Seems like Milwaukee relied on a more isolation-heavy type of game against Miami (44% unassisted baskets compared to 17% unassisted for the Heat). Bledsoe went 6 of 7 on 2-pointers (+13 plus/minus), while Donte DiVincenzo was 4 of 5 at the rim and a team high +22. Budenholzer even scrapped his usual minutes restrictions guidelines as Khris Middleton played 48 minutes, Lopez 42 minutes and Bledsoe 40 (game did have an extra 5 minutes period).
Budenholzer remembers how hard-nosed defense defeated his Hawks’ team when the stakes became bigger in the conference finals. The Heat got a taste of that grit and determination when a smaller version of the Bucks pulled down more boards than Miami.
The fact is 3-1 playoff deficits have been overcome. But in a way the last game is a reminder of what’s in store if Miami does go on to the next round. The intensity only increases during the Final Four, and even more when only two are left standing in the NBA version of “The Hunger Games.”