Game One: Bucks at Heat - How Did the Night Go?

Game 1

Brandon Jennings didn’t fall asleep until something like 3 a.m. on Saturday night in Miami. Not out celebrating because the team made the postseason. Just unable to fall asleep, because he could not stop thinking about his upcoming first playoff game in three years.  

Yet Game 1 was not Game Won for the Bucks.

So it goes.

But we are not here to dwell on Game 1. Not when we have three or four or five or six more games to consider in this series. The Bucks actually never led at any point in the game, but a few moments burned sweetly. Looking ahead to Game 2 on Tuesday in Miami, here are some lessons on what the team must keep doing and stop doing.

Three Keep Doing This

Ekpe Udoh: advanced stat heroism. Upon arrival in the trade from Golden State, the young forward attracted intrigue among Bucks supporters far less for his modest raw numbers (points, rebounds, assists) than some of his fascinating advanced stats. In particular, his brilliant on-court differential (also referred to as plus/minus) numbers with the Warriors suggested that Udoh helped his team win despite not putting up big numbers as an individual. Yet while this regular season saw his differential dip (the Bucks were actually outscored with him on the court), Udoh seized the moment in his first career playoff game and ended up with the only positive differential (+6) on the team. That means the Bucks outscored the Heat by six points while Udoh was on the court. And on the court he was, for 20 minutes, fourth most on the team and most of anyone off the bench.

Brandon Jennings: keen shot distribution. Beautiful: Just one mid-range jumper attempt all game. The player of the night for the Bucks may have only shot 40.0 % from the field in Game 1 – almost exactly his season average – but please know that this was an efficient offensive shooting night overall for Jennings (and for anyone). Here’s why: the point guard made 4-10 threes and 6-7 free throws. That means he turned in a 56.3 true shooting percentage. Which is better than the regular season true shooting percentages of Carmelo Anthony (56.0) and Tim Duncan (55.4). Jennings was rewarded for taking relatively high percentage, high-reward shots, namely free throws, shots around the rim, and three-pointers. Here’s to keeping this up.

Offensive boards: first half style: The Bucks secured 10 offensive rebounds. All of them in the first half! If the Heat have one relative area of weakness, it is their work on the defensive glass. They ranked 22nd in defensive rebound rate in the regular season. And the Bucks capitalized in the first half, with 10 offensive rebounds (compared to just three to the Heat). They went to halftime up 12-4 in second-chance points, and that first number could have been a bit higher. This played a major factor in keeping the Bucks in the game. Second half, different story.

Three Stop Doing This

Shotblocking: non-existent. In all 82 regular season games, the Bucks registered at least one blocked shot. Pretty amazing stuff (pun intended). But against the Heat in the first round, the Bucks did not block a single shot. Maybe you recall when I asked back in December: How often do you notice when a shot is not blocked? So, did you notice without checking the box score that the Bucks did not block a shot? The Bucks ranked second in the NBA in blocks this regular season, behind only the Thunder. But what is probably less known is that the Heat had their own shots blocked by far the least of any team in the NBA this season. This is a concern. It also gets at a much larger problem: the Heat made a scorching hot 23-28 (82.1 %) of their shots around the hoop. Compare that to the league average of 56.5 %. Yikes.

Sharpshooters: dulled. Ersan Ilyasova (1-7), J.J. Redick (1-6), and Mike Dunleavy (2-4) are Milwaukee’s three designated sharpshooters. In order for the Bucks to spring an upset, at least two and probably all three of them need to be on. Unfortunately, they made fewer threes combined (2) than Chris Bosh alone (3). That is not a recipe for success. While the entire team struggled from the field, we hold higher (percentage) standards for these three. Ilyasova (4th) and Dunleavy (9th) rated as two of the most accurate three-point shooters in the NBA this regular season, and Redick made more overall than either of them. On their best day, these three can really help deliver the Bucks a win, even over a team like the Heat. Today (maybe yesterday when you read this) was not that day.

Passing: second. In games that the Bucks registered fewer than 20 assists in the regular season, they went 2-18. Against the Heat, the Bucks registered 14 assists. So that did not work. When the Bucks topped the Heat back in late-December, they handed out 29 assists. Jennings (7) and Ellis (9) had more assists in that game than the entire team collected in Game 1. The starting backcourt scored more than half of the team’s points (48 of 87) this time, but only totaled five assists. No one outside those two on the Bucks made more than three shots from the field or scored more than six points. This does not fall merely on Jennings and Ellis either. Against a swarming Miami defense, everyone must move off the ball, find their hot spots, and strike quickly. That rarely happened.