Has Doc Rivers Fixed the Milwaukee Bucks Already? – Sportstimes.info
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Has Doc Rivers Fixed the Milwaukee Bucks Already?



Milwaukee is only 8-8 since firing Adrian Griffin and calling a drastic audible on its season. But don’t let that average record fool you: The Bucks have flipped the script since hiring Doc Rivers. Under Griffin, they owned the NBA’s no. 22 ranked defense. Under Rivers, they are up to no. 6, thanks to a blend of smarter schemes, increased effort, and improved in-game adjustments. Now the Bucks are not just playoff bound, but looking more like the Eastern Conference team to beat.

During training camp, Griffin strangely reversed what worked for Milwaukee’s defense in past years. He had his players tightly contest all perimeter opponents, limiting the ability of lengthy players like Giannis Antetokounmpo to defend and rebound inside. He pulled Brook Lopez out of his drop coverage, and the Bucks began hemorrhaging points at the rim. Perhaps the biggest issue of all, though, was Griffin’s lack of communication. Plans weren’t explained to players. Responsibilities were often vague. And the defense never felt like it was connected.

Now with Rivers at the helm, Milwaukee looks like a team with a plan, executing different schemes on a nightly basis. Earlier this month in a win against the Dallas Mavericks, the Bucks threw out traps in the second half against Luka Doncic. One week later in a win over the reigning champion Denver Nuggets, they played drop coverage virtually all game against pick-and-rolls involving Nikola Jokic. And then in their first game out of the All-Star break, they did a little bit of everything in an impressive win against the best-in-the-West Minnesota Timberwolves.

The clip below illustrates just how much sharper the Bucks have looked as of late. In that win against the Wolves, the Bucks allowed only 13 points in the third quarter. Every rotation was on point. On this possession, Damian Lillard got switched onto Karl-Anthony Towns, but the Bucks immediately sought an off-ball switch to get Lopez on Towns, which left Lillard guarding Rudy Gobert. After another switch, Lillard is left guarding Anthony Edwards in space, but he keeps Edwards in front of him while his teammates collapse into the paint to help. Giannis, who is playing at an All-Defensive level since the coaching switch, makes his presence felt in the paint before making a hard closeout to contest the 3-pointer:

There was little Griffin could do about the fact that Lillard isn’t a stopper on Jrue Holiday’s level. Nor could he do much about Malik Beasley representing a step down from Grayson Allen. But keeping his bigs closer to the basket was a simple solution, and in the past 13 games the Bucks have allowed the fourth-fewest points in the paint.


Later in that quarter against the Wolves, the Bucks deployed a different style of defense because of the players involved to get a stop. This time, the Bucks switched on the perimeter before Edwards and Gobert ran an action together. When Edwards got the ball, Lopez sat in a deep drop to protect against a drive and also a Gobert lob. And since Rivers has instructed his players to sag off of average or subpar shooters, all five Bucks players collapse in the lane to crowd Edwards, taking away any space and forcing a turnover:

Simply put, the Bucks just look like a more prepared team that believes in the game plan and is executing on the floor. Since beating Minnesota, they’ve switched almost all on-ball screens for two straight games, holding the Philadelphia Sixers to 98 points and the Charlotte Hornets to 85 points or fewer twice. The Bucks have held teams under 100 points four times in their past seven games after doing it just once in 43 games with Griffin.

Playing differently for each opponent is a stark change from the fairly rigid and predictable tactics that Griffin employed. But one thing that’s been consistent is the Bucks’ transition defense. Griffin asked his wings to crash the offensive boards, which led to a leaky transition defense that allowed the eighth-most transition points and the most transition chances. But Rivers has his team prioritizing getting back to stop fast breaks. And they are. The Bucks are allowing the second-fewest fast-break points since he took over.

Personnel changes help, too. The Bucks got Jae Crowder back and acquired Patrick Beverley at the deadline. These guys are tone-setters who help inspire a team to put in full effort on a consistent basis. They’ll be needed, particularly with the most difficult stretch of Milwaukee’s regular season beginning next week, with a home game against the Los Angeles Clippers then a four-game road trip against the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, and Sacramento Kings. Before the end of the month, they’ll also host the Phoenix Suns, Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Lakers, with road games against the New Orleans Pelicans and the Boston Celtics.

The national TV game against Boston on March 20 is the big one. If the Bucks are still rolling then, the national discourse will undoubtedly be about who the true favorite is in the East. Truth is, it might already be the Bucks. If their newfound success on defense sustains, they are a well-rounded juggernaut, plus they have the best player in any East series in Giannis. And Lillard, despite his ups and downs this season, is still the best, most efficient, and clutch perimeter shot creator in the conference.


On top of all that, the Bucks aren’t even at full strength yet. Khris Middleton is still recovering from an ankle injury, and Dame still hasn’t totally returned to form offensively. But he is trending up, in part because Rivers is increasing the frequency of two-man-game actions involving him and Giannis and having higher screens set by the Bucks’ bigs to give Dame more of a runway. The better this offense gets, the more it’ll help the defense by putting them into half-court sets.

Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes reported this week that Rivers sat down with every Bucks player to tell them specifically what he does and doesn’t want them to do. This is simple stuff, but there was no hierarchy and no direction under Griffin. The players eventually recognized how much of a mess it was with no order.

All it took was a handful of practices and an All-Star break for Doc to bleach out the stains left by his predecessor. But no matter how dire things were behind the scenes, most front offices wouldn’t fire a head coach who had led his team to a 30-13 record in the first year of his contract. Most teams would want to save face, or at least save money. But the Bucks made a gutsy call, and it just might have saved their season and given the franchise another shot at glory.

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