The Milwaukee Bucks have played themselves into the 6th seed in the East on the strength of their defense. They stand tied for second in the NBA in defensive efficiency, allowing only 99.6 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. Their length on defense is insane. Giannis Antetokounmpo and John Henson have wingspans of 88 and 89 inches respectively. The sheer size of their lineup allows for a ton of versatility on defense. Players can switch almost any assignment without worrying about mismatches. Their aggressive style leads to steals, blocks, and plenty of disrupted possessions. This was the case against Boston, as they held the Celtics to an offensive rating of 98 points per 100 possessions. This is a Knicks level of ineptitude on offense. Boston's defense faced plenty of criticism after the game, but the offense had its own struggles. These are a few plays that show why Milwaukee's defense is so effective.
To start things off, the Bucks do a great job of having active hands on defense. It's such a point of emphasis that they actually chart how often their players have hands up in the passing lanes. O.J. Mayo doesn't have a freakish wingspan like some of his teammates, but he's still able to affect this play.
Marcus Smart is trying to get the ball in deep to Jonas Jerebko, but Mayo alters it just enough to stop Jerebko from receiving the pass. It might seem like a simple concept, but Mayo's active hands prevented an entry pass and led to a steal.
The Bucks will employ some different defense alignments when the opportunity arises. On this play, it might look like the Bucks made a mistake in transition defense.
They're overplaying the ball side to an extreme degree, leaving one man to guard Isaiah Thomas and Jared Sullinger. They overload the strong side like this to discourage guards from driving. Smart actually attacks it, but Khris Middleton tips the ball away from behind. Middleton is yet another Buck with giant reach. As a team they make it really tough for a young point guard to navigate through their defense. Once the action starts, Smart either had to drive through multiple defenders, or fit a pass through the long arms of the defense.
The Bucks have some freedom to make plays by quickly trapping the ball handler. It's common to see players quickly leave their assignments to try for a steal.
Phil Pressey dumps the ball with Marcus Smart and clears out to give him space. As Smart looks to drive, Pressey's defender attacks him. Michael Carter Williams takes a bit of a risk, but it pays off as he strips the ball out from Smart. MCW is another player with great length for his position, which helps him get steals like this.
Milwaukee also showed how solid rotations can make an impact on a game.
Jae Crowder is driving to the rim after spotting up in the corner. Jared Dudley sees Zaza Pachulia sliding to help, then breaks to cover Tyler Zeller. When Crowder releases the ball, it looks to be an easy bucket for Zeller. But Dudley is right there to break the play up. He steals Crowder's pass and makes an athletic play to keep the ball inbounds. This is just another example of how opportunistic the Bucks' defense is when they swarm to the ball.
Now, Milwaukee had their fair share of few lucky plays on defense too. This inbound pass, if you'd even call it that, was a thoughtful gift to the Bucks from Evan Turner.
Then there's the most talked about referee decision of the night. The non-call on Jerebko's layup attempt was pretty egregious. It does show why it's important not to quit plays though. Because you never know when you might get bailed out by the officials.
The Celtics dropped a pretty important game last night. The defensive problems in the third quarter were certainly a turning point. But their struggles against the tough defense of Milwaukee played a big role throughout the entire game.