Biggest Concerns for Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix Suns Ahead of Game 2

Mo DakhilFeatured Columnist IJuly 8, 2021

Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

Game 1 of the NBA Finals is in the books, and both the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks unveiled their plans of attack. The Suns ran off with a 13-point, 118-105 victory to take a 1-0 series lead. However, both teams have some issues they will need to address before Thursday's Game 2 in Arizona. 

The first contest of a playoff series is always about feeling each other out. Teams are putting their strategies into practice and finding out what works or what doesn't. Now comes the hard part: planning the next matchup. 

Milwaukee will have to rethink its approach. Phoenix, on the other hand, will need to keep an eye on the injury report and look at what effect it might have on its rotation. 


Bucks' Biggest Concern

The biggest X's and O's question for the Bucks heading into the series was how they would cover the Suns' pick-and-roll action. None of those concerns were allayed in Game 1, and it turned out to be a bigger problem for Milwaukee than many would have imagined.

For most of the season, the Bucks have primarily been a drop-coverage team. Toward the end of the last series against the Atlanta Hawks, they became more of a switch-everything team. They had some success with Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis switching onto guards and getting stops. 

But none of those Hawks guards are nearly as good in the pick-and-roll as Chris Paul and Devin Booker. Despite that, the Bucks stayed with their newfound switching scheme to start the series, but it didn't provide the same results. 

For two-and-a-half quarters, Paul and Booker hunted for Lopez. It came to a head early in the third frame, when Paul got Lopez to switch onto him and hit a side-step mid-range jumper. A few possessions later, Paul got Lopez switched onto him again and hit an and-1 three that was later upgraded to a flagrant foul. 

Not long after that possession, the Bucks went back to using Lopez in drop coverage, but that did not slow the red-hot Suns. Below, Paul comes off the Deandre Ayton screen to attack Lopez, who is hanging back in the paint, and it opens up the lob to Ayton for the dunk. Then Paul drives through the paint into a mid-range shot without any stress. 

After these plays, Lopez was subbed out and didn't return to the game. The Suns played the big man off the court. 

Lopez was not the only one Phoenix's tandem picked on. Bobby Portis became the next target. And even when the Bucks went small, the Suns still had another target to attack in Bryn Forbes. Phoenix began going into small-ball pick-and-rolls to get that switch. Below, P.J. Tucker switches off easily, and Booker has an opportunity to go at Forbes for a mid-range jumper. 

The Bucks had no answer for the Suns' pick-and-roll actions all night, so it is back to the drawing board for Mike Budenholzer and his staff. They had some success when they went small in the fourth, but it still does not completely cover them, with Forbes being vulnerable. They also do not have enough bodies to stay small for long stretches with Donte DiVincenzo missing since the first round of the playoffs. 

Budenholzer acknowledged in his postgame press conference that the pick-and-roll was a problem. "We have to keep looking at the film and see how we can maybe take away some of the rhythm, or make it where [Paul's] not getting into his spots as easily. That will be a big part of looking between Game 1 and Game 2."

If the Bucks cannot find an answer for the Suns' devastating pick-and-roll, this will be a short series. 


Suns' Biggest Concern

Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Even in victory, the Suns lost Dario Saric to a torn ACL. Toward the end of the first quarter, he appeared to injure his knee and didn't return. Though Saric may not be well-known, his absence means head coach Monty Williams has to reexamine his rotation.

Saric has been the Suns' backup 5 and could stretch the floor. The injury forced Williams to turn to Frank Kaminsky, who hadn't played since garbage time in Game 3 of the second round against the Denver Nuggets. In his first meaningful minutes in a month, he put up zeros across the box score and did not see any action in the second half. 

Ayton played all of the third quarter and started the fourth before Williams gave him a rest. Instead of going with Kaminsky, he went with Jae Crowder and decided to go small. With Booker, Cameron Payne, Cameron Johnson and Torrey Craig on the floor, the Suns' lead dropped to single digits, and the Bucks looked like they had some new life. 

Ayton sat for just three minutes and 36 seconds of the 24 minutes in the second half and played 38:44 total minutes. With Saric out, Williams will need to find a lineup he can trust for at least 10 minutes or if Ayton gets into foul trouble, which is possible while the big man defends Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The first game of a series is when teams find out if their strategies will work, but despite the victory, the Suns lost a significant cushion for Ayton's minutes. On the other side, one of the Bucks' biggest concerns heading into the Game 1 got even bigger.


Mo Dakhil spent six years with the Los Angeles Clippers and two years with the San Antonio Spurs as a video coordinator, as well as three years with the Australian men's national team. Follow him on Twitter, @MoDakhil_NBA


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