2023 Playoffs: East First Round | Bucks (1) vs. Heat (8)

Playoffs Film Study: Without Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez & Bucks play big

Even as the Bucks tie a playoff record for 3-pointers, Brook Lopez amasses a throwback game inside to establish a domineering paint presence.

Brook Lopez rocks the Heat for 25 points as the Bucks even the series, 1-1.

Though they’re led by the best paint scorer of the last 20 years, the Milwaukee Bucks are a jump-shooting team. In the regular season, only two teams — the Golden State Warriors (41.2%) and Dallas Mavericks (41.8%) — took a lower percentage of their shots in the paint than the Bucks (42.4%). And, though he missed 19 games, Giannis Antetokounmpo scored almost twice as many points in the paint (1,182) as any of his teammates.

But without Antetokounmpo in Game 2 of their first-round matchup against the Miami Heat on Wednesday, the Bucks dominated the paint early, scoring 81 points in the first half and cruising to a a 138-122 victory to even the series.

The Bucks finished 25-for-49 (51%) from 3-point range, with the 25 makes tying the NBA’s all-time record for a playoff game. But in that 81-point first half, the Bucks took 30 (55%) of their 55 shots in the paint, with Brook Lopez scoring more than twice as many points in the paint (18, he finished with 24) as he had in all of Game 1 (8).

Here’s a quick look at how that happened.

1. Big vs. not-so big

As was the case at the start of Game 1, the Heat began with 6-foot-5 Max Strus guarding 7-foot-1 Lopez. Lopez took advantage on his team’s first possession, ducking in against Strus when the Bucks’ initial play stalled:

Brook Lopez dunk

Two possessions later, Strus switched a ball-screen, leaving 6-foot-2 Gabe Vincent on Lopez. The Bucks couldn’t get him the ball initially, but when Khris Middleton missed on a drive, Lopez had a relatively easy put-back.

(The Heat abandoned the Strus-on-Lopez plan in the second half.)

2. Out of the post and back

While Lopez had only eight paint points in Game 1, Bobby Portis had 14, posting up smaller defenders and getting some pretty easy jump hooks inside. Midway through the first quarter of Game 2, Portis contested a Kyle Lowry 3-pointer and quickly got down the floor to establish post position against the 6-foot guard:

Bobby Portis contest and post-up

The Heat doubled, Portis got rid of the ball, and the Bucks swung it around to Joe Ingles in the opposite corner. When Ingles beat Jimmy Butler’s close-out, Portis was the beneficiary:

Joe Ingles assist to Bobby Portis

3. Miami breakdown

Two possessions later, Grayson Allen set a “pistol” screen for Jrue Holiday. Strus switched it, but allowed Holiday to get to the baseline, where Kevin Love brought help off of Lopez. It was probably Butler’s job to crack down and get in front of Lopez, but he didn’t get there quickly enough, and Lopez had an easy dunk:

Jrue Holiday assist to Brook Lopez

On the surface, the results of the first two games in this series look like Exhibits A and B for the “it’s a make-or-miss league” argument, and the Bucks’ 25 3-pointers on Wednesday tied a playoff record. But they clearly made an early effort to play bigger in Game 2, and their 52 points in the paint were their third-most in 20 total games without Antetokounmpo this season.

Whether or not Antetokounmpo is available for Game 3 in Miami on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), the Heat will have to be better defensively … both inside and out.

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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