Milwaukee Bucks are getting back in the NBA Finals thanks to their defense

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JULY 11: (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JULY 11: (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

Sunday night saw the Milwaukee Bucks defeat the Phoenix Suns 120-100 in Game 3 of this year’s NBA Finals.

Not only did it mark the Bucks’ first Finals victory in more than 47 years, but it helped the Bucks stave off from falling further into a 3-0 deficit, something which no team has ever recovered from. The Bucks delivered an emphatic victory, thanks to the herculean performance of Giannis Antetokounmpo, but it was an effort that went beyond the play of the two-time MVP and the Bucks’ resurgent offense that propelled them in Game 3.

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More than that, though, the Bucks’ defense proved to be the foundation that helped them fend off Phoenix for at least one night this series. After allowing 118 points each in both Games 1 and 2, the Bucks smothered the Suns on the defensive side of the ball and limited them to 100 points.

The advanced numbers were even more stark. Per, the Bucks allowed 103.1 points per 100 possessions to the Suns in Game 3 after having a 115.7 and 124.2 defensive ratings in Games 1 and 2.

So what exactly changed for the Bucks on the defensive end from Games 1 and 2 in Phoenix and compared to the series coming to Milwaukee for Game 3?

Milwaukee Bucks shored up their defensive struggles in their Game 3 win

Any time a team improves so vastly from game to game, the cause is not going to be any one thing and that’s certainly true here for the Bucks.

Milwaukee limited the Suns to one of their worst offensive performances of their playoff run in Game 3, thanks in large part to running them off the 3-point line as they shot 9-for-31 from downtown (29 percent).

Along with that, there’s been so much discussion in how the Bucks should the Suns’ pick-and-rolls, especially with the likes of Devin Booker and Chris Paul putting so much pressure on an opposing defense. The Bucks stopped soft switching and other adjustments likely helped the Bucks defend the Suns’ primary offensive action. But one of the most striking improvements came either in transition or in semi-transition after Bucks misses.

Game 1 saw the Suns make four 3-pointers on semi-transition off a Bucks miss. The defense was not able to get set up and the Suns’ quick passing got them down the court quickly, got the Bucks scrambling to find a man and the Suns capitalized with a 3-pointer and taking advantage of the Bucks’ sloppy transition defense. Phoenix eventually finished with 20 fast break points, the highest mark for them this postseason.

Game 2 was an even bigger problem for the Bucks when getting back on defense as the Suns made nine 3-pointers in these situations. As the Bucks were trying to find solutions to the Phoenix half-court offense, the Suns were making it a moot point and finding open looks before even needing to get into it, even while just scoring seven fast break points as they went up 2-0.

The Bucks’ struggles when defending in transition surely changed in Game 3. The Suns only made one 3-pointer off a semi-transition on a Bucks miss. That is a 24-point improvement from Game 2.

One might expect a big cause of this is that Bucks missed less and the Suns had fewer opportunities. However, the Suns only had two more defensive rebounds in Game 2 than Game 3 (32 to 30). The Bucks were just doing a better job getting back on defense and finding the shooters.

This is an intentional strategy employed by many NBA teams recently. Teams forgo offensive rebounding in order to make certain that offenses have to attack a set defense rather than a scrambling one. What was so impressive about the Bucks performance in Game 3 is that they did not give up on the offensive rebounds. They had a 30.2 offensive rebounding rate and scored 20 second chance points

Next. Resiliency has been a staple of historic playoff run. dark

The Bucks’ near 20-point improvement in their defensive rating was the key to their 20-point victory Sunday night and to get on the board in this series. As they hope to continue their sound, fundamental defending from Game 3, they know they have enough to swing this series around and potentially even to win the whole thing this year.