Switching away from what worked
The Bucks looked like a team mired in a slump in the regular season trying to figure out what to do rather than a team playing to its strengths in playoff form. Head coach Joe Prunty and the rest of the coaching staff failed to put the team in position to succeed in Game 7.
After falling behind 0-2 in the series, the Bucks made an adjustment defensively with John Henson out for Game 3. They began switching almost every single pick-and-roll and dribble hand-off the Celtics ran. This type of scheme played into Thon Maker‘s strengths as he stepped up in John Henson’s absence.
After Game 3, Celtics players said the defensive adjustment the Bucks made surprised them and worked. Giannis Antetokounmpo mentioned a conversation he had with Middleton about how switching forces the Celtics into iso ball. The Celtics made adjustments after Game 3, but did not have the firepower to overcome the Bucks’ defense.
Yet, the coaches inexplicably decided to move away from the switching scheme in the winner-take-all game. They played more of a hedge-and-recover technique against the pick-and-roll. The Bucks had a defensive rating of 116.8 in Game 7.
But the Celtics also gashed the Bucks in the pick-and-roll, creating efficient scoring opportunities they converted in three main ways.
First, they created easy buckets for the big when the Bucks’ defenders were unable to recover in time. Second, they took advantage of the roll man’s defender positioning themselves to hedge by rejecting the screen for drives to the rim. Third, with an off-ball defender like Eric Bledsoe needing to tag the roll man, the Celtics swung the ball to his man, Terry Rozier, for multiple open looks from three.
An additional negative effect of choosing not to switch pick-and-rolls was that the Bucks were unable to take advantage of cross-matches in transition that these switches would have created. Their failure to score a single fast break point was a failure to execute in transition as they had their opportunities. But finding cross-matches would have helped them convert those opportunities.
The Bucks switched away from switching, and it cost them.