Milwaukee Bucks: Debunking narratives surrounding the 2021 title run

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JULY 22 (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JULY 22 (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /
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Milwaukee Bucks: Mike Budenholzer
Jul 8, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

Did the Milwaukee Bucks win because of Mike Budenholzer or despite him?

For good reason, popular criticisms of Mike Budenholzer’s supposed inability to adjust in a playoff setting followed him after two years of early playoff heartbreaks with the Bucks.

They were valid too. For two years in a row, Budenholzer largely leaned on the same offense and defense that saw the Bucks put up near-historic numbers on both ends of the floor. They were a well-oiled machine in the regular season. The problem was, they didn’t know what else to be when the apparatus sputtered and ultimately fell apart.

The lingering questions about Budenholzer’s potentially innate flaws as a tactician are all well and good, as evidenced by the throngs of fans who were also quick to question the championship strategist’s role in the Bucks’ title run to the top of the NBA ladder. But while the game-by-game adjustments on Budenholzer’s part were rather blurry, the real adjustments began long before the playoffs even started.

Budenholzer’s wholesale scrapping of the team’s offensive and defensive principles is well-documented. That they sacrificed a five-out offense and a drop coverage-heavy defense that was second to none in search of their best selves was a bold risk that ultimately paid off. Bud treated the regular season as though it were a laboratory to tinker with the team’s lineups, try out iterations of zone and switching on defense, and ultimately, get better every day.

In every series in these playoffs, the Bucks started out looking unkempt and disheveled against their matchups. Save for the Heat, it was always the opposition that dealt the opening salvo to come away with a 1-0 series lead. Against the Nets and the Suns, the gap was dangerously close to looking like an insurmountable failing once more. Bud adjusted by making sure the Bucks were ready for the moment. When the moment came, they seemed to know exactly how to respond in the face of doubt and adversity.

That the Bucks did all this without their fifth starter makes their feat that much more impressive and should tell you all you need to know about how the team functioned under the now-extended head coach.