While his play came with some inconsistencies, sharpshooting forward Nikola Mirotic catalyzed the Milwaukee Bucks after being inserted in the starting lineup midway through their second round series against the Boston Celtics.
The buzz surrounding the Milwaukee Bucks has never been higher this season than it is now after they’ve cemented their first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals since 2001 Wednesday night.
Their complete dismantling of the Boston Celtics in Game 5 gave way to a very celebratory atmosphere inside Fiserv Forum as the Bucks closed out the five-game series with very little adversity in the 116-91 win.
From that lens, it was a stark contrast to the general view people had of the Bucks only a week ago after they righted the ship in Game 2, which went on to be a 21-point blowout in the Bucks’ favor.
While that game was obviously the turning point in terms of the numerous tactical adjustments the Bucks threw at the Celtics that ultimately swung the series, it also included a significant change in the starting lineup with veteran foward Nikola Mirotic taking over Sterling Brown‘s spot.
On its own, inserting Mirotic into the starting lineup didn’t unleash his biggest strength on a consistent basis, that being shooting the ball. Mirotic finished the five-game series averaging 10.8 points on 39.6 percent shooting from the field and 10-of-29 from deep, a mark of 34.5 percent.
Despite the average offensive series Mirotic went on to have, there were tangible ways that his insertion into the starting five led to the Bucks coalescing from that point on in the second round.
For starters, having Mirotic play alongside the four regulars in the Bucks’ starting lineup resulted in the unit having a dead even net rating in the 37 minutes they played together against the Celtics, per NBA.com/stats. Considering the ugly starts the Bucks often got off to over the course of the series, that may come as a shock to all Bucks fans, though the strong third quarters did counteract that.
Additionally, Mirotic’s services on the defensive end, while not overwhelming by any means, more than held up against the Celtics.
Showing most notably in Games 2 and 5, Mirotic’s ability to seamlessly fit into the Bucks’ swarming switching defense, display active hands and crash the glass helped to give Milwaukee even more steel to their top-ranked defense, both in the regular season and in the playoffs. All of that resulted in Mirotic logging a 95.8 defensive rating against the Celtics, which is just a shade better than the 95.9 defensive rating he’s posted throughout the playoffs so far.
Of course, the threat Mirotic poses spacing the floor was reflected in the 110.7 offensive rating he notched throughout the series. In the 113 minutes Mirotic was off the floor, Milwaukee managed to tally 97.3 points per 100 possessions against Boston, and only Khris Middleton and George Hill taking a seat led to lower off court offensive ratings.
Mirotic’s stay in Milwaukee since arriving before this year’s trade deadline hasn’t been without some bumps along the way, whether it’s been the occasional off shooting nights or the near month-long layoff he had after fracturing the thumb on his left hand.
Yet there’s more than enough evidence to show how much Mirotic has found his footing in his new surroundings and grown comfortable playing alongside both the Bucks’ most dangerous players and their more complementary role players.
Like pretty much every Bucks player at this point in their playoff run, there’s still room for improvement for Mirotic and it’s hard not to shake the feeling that we haven’t seen the best he can offer in a playoff setting and atmosphere. But what he’s done up to this point shouldn’t go underappreciated either.