For the first time since 2003, both no. 1 seeds lost their opening games of the playoffs. In the Western Conference, the Lakers lost a close game which ultimately came down to them not being able to hit long-range shots and coming up against a white-hot Portland team. The more concerning of the games was Milwaukee’s performance against the Orlando Magic. The Bucks never really threatened in their twelve-point defeat and especially struggled on the offensive end. So how was Orlando able to dominate against the best team in basketball? Here are several things the Magic did right to take Game 1.
Let Milwaukee Launch Away from Three
While they may have the best record in basketball, the Bucks still have a few distinct weaknesses. One of them is their three-point shooting. At just over 35 percent from deep, they ranked only 20th in the NBA this season. Only three players on their roster shoot above league average from beyond the arc and some of their highest volume deep shooters like Eric Bledsoe, Donte DiVincenzo and Brook Lopez fall well below that line.
Instead of closing out on these below-average shooters, the Magic implored them to fire away. Throughout the game, Magic defenders would hang off the Bucks poorer shooters to both offer extra defensive support against Giannis driving to the rim and to bait the Bucks to pass into low-efficiency three-pointers. The Magics plan worked, the Bucks shot just 33 percent from deep on a whopping 42 attempts. This included a combined 1 for 11 performance from Bledsoe, DiVincenzo and Lopez.
Stifled the Bucks’ Transition Offense
The Bucks offense this season has been deadly in transition. They ranked third in the NBA in transition points at just over 25 points per game. This impeccable fast-break revolves around the athletic prowess of Giannis Antetokounmpo and his ability to go coast to coast with ease. He often catches teams out of position on the break by bounding up the court after a rebound for easy transition buckets.
Luckily, the Orlando Magics style of play is well suited to shutting down teams in transition. Coach Steve Clifford runs a defense that puts a lot of emphasis on getting set early and not being exploited on the break. Because of their already well-established style of play focused on stopping the transition game, the Magic were able to stifle Milwaukee’s fast break, who scored just 10 points in transition. In order to get back and set, Orlando had to sacrifice a lot of their offensive rebounding potential, they grabbed only four in game one. But the reward for them was bigger than the risk in this case and it paid off big time.
Found a Groove in the Midrange
As the best defensive team in basketball during the regular season, Milwaukee’s defense is a formidable challenge for even the NBA’s best offenses. Where the Bucks defense shines the brightest is in the interior, teams shoot a league-worst 51 percent withing six feet of the basket against them, a whole six percentage points better than the second-place Toronto Raptors. This is mainly due to the defensive presence of Giannis, who is the front runner for the defensive player of the year award this season.
In order to get their interior game going, the Magic drew the Bucks defense out with an incredible mid-range performance. Between six and 22 feet, the Magic shot 14 of 27 from the field. This mid-range barrage forced the Bucks to come out and cover those shots. This allowed Orlando to exploit the interior which Milwaukee left exposed, leading to them shooting 75 percent at the rim by games end.
Orlando has gotten off to a great start in the first round for the second year in a row. They were in a familiar situation last year after beating the eventual champions Toronto in game one of their first-round matchup. Toronto was able to get it together and win the next four games and Milwaukee will obviously be looking to do the same.
In order for the Magic to avoid the same fate this season, they need to continue to exploit Milwaukee’s weakness from beyond the arc but most importantly they need to keep their transition game in check. If Orlando starts to lose the transition battles they will inevitably start losing games. Getting back quickly on defense is a must for them even if it costs them second-chance points. If they can hold Milwaukee to under 15 fast break points per game Orlando has a real chance of winning some more games.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com
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