2021 Playoffs: East First Round | Bucks vs. Heat
Khris Middleton's work, Brook Lopez's rim protection power Bucks' victory
Khris Middleton was able to even attempt the game-winner after putting in work on defense, where he was bolstered by Brook Lopez.
In a defensive struggle, Khris Middleton gave the Milwaukee Bucks they bucket they needed to outlast the Miami Heat in Game 1 of their first-round series on Saturday. Middleton hit a step-back, mid-range jumper over Duncan Robinson with 0.5 seconds left in overtime to lift the Bucks to a a 109-107 victory.
🚨 MIDDLETON WINS IT FOR MILWAUKEE! 🚨
— NBA (@NBA) May 22, 2021
Here are some notes from a game in which both teams scored less than a point per possession.
Number to Know
44-12 — The Bucks shot 5-for-31 (16.1%) from 3-point range, their second worst mark of the last five seasons. Prior to Saturday, teams were 7-47 this season when they made less than 20% from 3-point range. The Heat, meanwhile shot 20-for-50 from 3-point range, with the 20 makes being their second-highest total of the season.
Alas, in both of the games that the Heat have made 20 or more 3s, they’ve lost to the Bucks. They lost this one because Middleton hit that shot, but also because they got outscored, 44-12, in the restricted area. Restricted area shots are the most valuable shots on the floor and the Bucks earned 13 more of them. And to top that off, they shot twice as well as the Heat, making 22 of their 29 attempts (76%), while the Heat made just six of their 16 (38%), scoring fewer than 20 restricted-area points for just the second time this season.
Neither team led by more than eight points, but the Heat did have one strong offensive run in the middle of the third quarter, scoring (18 points) on seven straight possessions to turn a seven-point deficit into a one-point lead. After that, they scored just 37 points on their final 45 possessions of the game (82 per 100).
The Bucks got burned early by Robinson, because Brook Lopez remained in the paint as Robinson used Bam Adebayo screens. But Milwaukee didn’t really adjust. They kept Lopez in the paint and, just as interestingly, kept him on the floor for the final 13 minutes of the game. The Bucks basically played their starting lineup for all 10 minutes of “clutch time” and over four quarters and overtime, they never used a switch-all-screens lineup with Giannis Antetokounmpo and P.J. Tucker at the four and five.
With Lopez hanging in the paint and no switching on those screens, there was more pressure on Middleton to chase Robinson over screens and dribble handoffs. But with Middleton doing the bulk of the work, Robinson wasn’t able to get free late in the game – after shooting 6-for-10 from 3-point range through the first three quarters, he was 1-for-3 in the fourth and OT – and the Heat offense bogged down.
(All the work that Middleton did chasing Robinson makes his game-winner all the more impressive.)
A Bit of Film
One possession late in the third quarter illustrated Lopez’s rim protection in Game 1. Adebayo set a ball-screen for Jimmy Butler on the right side of the floor with Duncan Robinson flaring to the top of the arc and keeping Middleton occupied. With Antetokounmpo trailing the play and the weak-side defenders also occupied by shooters, Lopez dropped back toward the basket, almost daring Butler to shoot over him. Butler chose to drop off a pocket pass to Adebayo; because Lopez was so low, he was able to prevent the big man from getting all the way to the rim as well.
Adebayo showed an improved mid-range game this season, but he and Butler still combined to shoot 71% in the restricted area and 43% on other 2-point shots. Priority No. 1 will always be preventing the former. On Saturday, Adebayo (3-for-10) and Butler (0-for-9) combined to shoot 3-for-19 between the restricted area and the 3-point line.
The first possession of overtime was a good example of the work Middleton needed to do to stay with Robinson. When Adebayo caught the ball at the left elbow, Robinson faked a back-screen for Jimmy Butler and then darted toward a handoff from Adebayo. Middleton didn’t bite on the back-screen, stayed attached to Robinson to prevent the handoff, and then scrambled under Adebayo’s re-screen going the other way. When Robinson gave the ball to Trevor Ariza and cut back door ahead of Middleton, Lopez was there to protect the rim, unafraid to leave Adebayo alone at the foul line.
Game 2 Adjustments?
The Bucks will count on shooting better from 3-point range in Monday’s Game 2 (7:30 ET, TNT). And it will be interesting to see at what point they break out the Tucker-at-five lineup.
The Heat need to get better looks at the rim. And maybe that means putting the ball in Goran Dragic’s hands more often. Dragic is the Heat’s most multi-dimensional threat off the dribble, and led them with 25 points on 10-for-17 shooting on Saturday. His 35 minutes in Game 1 marked his second-most in a game this season … but five of those came in overtime and, according to Second Spectrum tracking, Butler (46 minutes) had the ball in his hands more than twice as much as Dragic. And don’t forget it was Dragic who started in last year’s playoffs after backing up Kendrick Nunn for most of the season.
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