The Heat do not #FearTheDeer

The Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat matchup in the East Semis is looking like a heavyweight matchup, literally and figuratively. 

The pressure is now on the Milwaukee Bucks as the league-leaders are currently down 0-2, losing Game 2 in controversial fashion. The Heat and coach Erik Spoelstra have looked comfortable against the DPOY and the presumed MVP in the two games thus far which makes this an interesting series the rest of the way. The Bucks are still the first-seed in the Eastern Conference and can find their groove anytime given the weapons they have at their disposal. It’s now up to Miami to keep them at bay.

Take a look at the tale of the tape so far as this series that’s featured a Jimmy Butler Game and two blown calls at the end of Game 2.  

Photo from Getty Images

Have the Heat solved the Greek Freak problem?

The Greek superstar has earned his spot among the league’s elite with his MVP-level performance in the past two regular seasons. However, if he wants to cement himself with the likes of LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Kevin Durant though, he will need to respond when the Playoff spotlight is on him.

The Celtics solved the Giannis puzzle in 2018 by loading either Marcus Smart or Al Horford on him. The Raptors walled up in the paint last year after the Bucks went up 0-2 in the East Finals. The Miami Heat currently are guarding him with a mixture of strategies, employing the 2018 Celtics style and 2019 Raptors schemes. They’re putting Bam Adebayo man-to-man while forming a wall in the paint every time the MVP touches the ball.

The Bucks offense relies heavily on the production of Giannis whether through his scoring or playmaking. The problem though is that he’s only had three points in the fourth quarter of Game 1 and only played 35 minutes in a crucial Game 2. Their supporting cast of Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez had the fastest pace in the league and a top-10 offensive rating of 111.9 in the regular season. So far, they’re all looking like a shell of themselves in the bubble.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra knows this and has been daring Antetokounmpo to shoot from three with Bam Adebayo ready to cover him if he drives. Just like stopping any superstar, the Heat knows that slowing him down will be their only option and they are trying to do that by constantly bringing bodies and forcing the other Bucks’ to create their own shot.

The Bucks are still a title-contending team, especially with a talent like Antetokounpo, but currently, they need to solve the Heat puzzle. Miami’s formula of Adebayo, walling off the paint and allowing the other Bucks to beat them has worked thus far. The Bucks now have their backs against the wall and need to start fighting back.

Photo from USA Today

Can the Heat’s offense continue to stay hot?

The Heat offense has been interesting this year. While they have a top-10 offensive rating thus, they have a weird mix of stats ranking sixth in three-pointers made and last in points scored per game. This phenomenon is partly due to the Heat’s guards in Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, and Goran Dragic all having their hot-and-cold streaks this season. An interesting case-study can also be made for Butler though who has made more threes in the whole Playoffs (6) than the regular season (5). He is having his best Playoffs stint so far scoring 23.8 points a game while shooting 47% in the field.

Miami’s firepower will be definitely tested though against a Milwaukee Bucks defense who are first in defensive rating and play right into Bucks’ game plan of limiting points in the paint. The Bucks are one of the biggest teams in the league and are not afraid to utilize it with the Bledsoe-DiVincenzo-Middleton-Antetokounpo-Lopez lineup. They also have key bench players who can fill up these roles in George Hill, Marvin Williams, and Robin Lopez who keep their defensive shape intact even when the starters sit.

In the regular season, the Bucks allowed the most threes per game because they prioritize protecting the paint. But so far in the series that strategy has backfired for them. The Heat are exploiting that chink in the Bucks’ armor by shooting 38.8% from deep. They’ve solved the Bucks defense thus far, with Jimmy Butler’s confidence being contagious for the rest of the team.

If the Heat continue to stay hot from beyond the arc and the Bucks fail to adjust their defensive schemes, there is a real possibility of an upset in our hands. 

Photo from AP

Who’s winning the coaching battle?

This series is definitely bringing out the best from Erik Spoelstra and Mike Budenholzer who are trying to out coach each other throughout the series. The two Coach of the Year winners are no strangers to Playoff battles, as both have reached at least the Conference Finals at one point.

Spoelstra made his move first, placing Goran Dragic in the starting lineup and playing Bam Adebayo straight-up on Antetokounmpo—strategies that have been working thus far. That’s left Budenholzer looking for answers, as Eric Bledsoe is not 100% with a hamstring injury leaving him an important piece missing to solving the Heat defense. The Bucks have tried to limit the minutes of their superstars all season long, but it may be time to play their best cards already.

As the series goes on, the storylines will be interesting for both the Bucks and the Heat. Antetokounmpo is thrust into the spotlight as he has to prove that his award-winning performance in the regular season is no fluke in the Playoffs. The Miami Heat meanwhile will try to pull off the huge upset, needing to win only two of the next five games. Given the nature of the NBA bubble, the winner of this series will have major implications for this Playoffs and possibly free agency moves in the offseason.