There is usually very little that can be extrapolated out of a blowout. During the regular season, a 20-point loss could be chalked up to a lack of effort or a long road trip or just simply not having it on a given night.
After head coach Mike Budenholzer said on Monday that Milwaukee wouldn’t be making drastic changes to their game plan, the Bucks came out on Tuesday night with not just more energy and aggressiveness. They changed their defensive schemes, particularly against Kyrie Irving.
“They owned their space on both ends of the court better than we did and I thought our reaction to that was to settle on offense and it lead to some run outs and it just steamrolled on us,” Brad Stevens said, describing the Bucks’ presence at Fiserv Forum in Game 2.
On Sunday afternoon, the Celtics feasted in the mid-range, hitting shot after shot around the free throw line. Two days later, those shots dried up for Boston as Milwaukee employed more switching on defense and making sure there was always a body in front of the ball handler.
“They’ve got the guys that can do that. They did it last year a lot. That’s an easy thing for them to adjust to and I thought they did a really good job of it,” Stevens said of Milwaukee’s defensive switching. “Basically, Giannis and smaller were doing that. They even switched Mirotic a little bit, switched Ilyasova a little bit, but kept Lopez as a protector. That’s where they’ve been great all year. They have a lot of versatility.”
Much of Milwaukee’s focus defensively was on Irving. After Kyrie dropped a cool 26 points and 11 assists in Game 1, he faced multiple double and triple teams. It seemed to speed up the All-Star point guard and flummox the rest of the team, too.
“I feel like we paced the game pretty well, but like I said, it starts with me getting down in the paint and making the right reads and I failed to do that tonight,” Irving admitted after the game.
“That responsibility falls on me, just controlling the tempo a lot better--they were getting out in transition, they made plays--but there were examples in the game that I could have just slowed us down and just got us into some sets that we’ve gone to and attacked the switches, especially when Khris (Middleton) and Nikola Mirotic are switching on me. I just gotta go by them.”
Irving had his worst performance in the playoffs with just nine points on 4-for-18 shooting and four assists. However, he didn’t seem concerned. “We shot a little too quick tonight, especially some of the shots I took. Game 3, I’m looking forward to it.”