Jrue Holiday and Wesley Matthews are the Milwaukee Bucks’ X-factors

Apr 20, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA: Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 20, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA: Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports /

After two turbulent games, the Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls are tied 1-1 in this best of seven first round series.

As if dropping Wednesday’s Game 2 at Fiserv Forum was not bad enough in itself, more adversity is knocking on the door for the Bucks. Khris Middleton is set to miss significant time after he was diagnosed with an MCL sprain in that Game 2 defeat, which is a devastating blow for the Bucks in these playoffs. Obviously, losing Middleton will be brutal, but the defending NBA champions must embrace a next-man-up mentality. While players like Grayson Allen and Pat Connaughton will be forced to step up, two players not named Giannis Antetokounmpo that could dictate just how this series plays out are Jrue Holiday and Wesley Matthews.

Jrue Holiday and Wesley Matthews are now the Milwaukee Bucks’ X-factors

Due to his sluggish play offensively, it has not been an ideal start to the playoffs for Jrue Holiday. The guard has looked like a shell of his regular season self as he has averaged 15 points per game while shooting an abysmal 37.5 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from three. In addition to his inability to knock down shots, the guard has tallied 10 turnovers with just 12 assists during the first two games in this series. Aside from a few shining moments, Holiday has been horrendous on the offensive side of things thus far, and that must change quickly.

With Middleton sidelined for the foreseeable future, Holiday is now the clear-cut second option on this team behind Antetokounmpo. Someone will have to make up for the scoring and facilitating in Middleton’s absence, and Holiday must embrace the task to help keep the Bucks afloat versus the Bulls. His production offensively makes him a significant X-factor for the remainder of this series, as the Bucks will need Holiday at his best without one of their All-Stars available. If Holiday steps up and finds his footing offensively, it would boost Milwaukee’s chances tremendously. However, if he continues to struggle, it could certainly spell doom for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Holiday’s poor play on offense has overshadowed how well he has performed on the defensive end in this series thus far. Per NBA.com/stats, Bulls players are shooting 9-of-34 (26.5 percent), including 2-of-12 (16.7 percent) when defended by Holiday in this series. A significant amount of this time has been spent guarding Chicago’s Big 3. Holiday has held Zach LaVine to 3-of-12 from the field, DeMar DeRozan to 3-of-10, and Nikola Vucevic to 2-of-8. Limiting these three will be a pivotal focus for the Bucks, especially after how well they played in Game 2. Holiday is among the best defenders in the world, and he has the potential to make a massive difference on that side of the ball whenever he touches the court in this series.

The biggest area to address for Holiday will be his production offensively. The Bucks need him to get going in this series, and his contributions could control how these next few games play out.

While Holiday’s biggest X-factor largely revolves around his production offensively, Matthews’ is centered on his play defensively. The swingman has primarily been tasked with matching up with DeRozan, and he has done a quality job thus far by holding him to 18 points on 5-of-16 shooting (31.3 percent). Eight of those points have come at the free throw line courtesy of four shooting fouls by Matthews, but aside from that, he has done a solid job. Many will question how he has done a good job if DeRozan scored 41 points in Wednesday’s game, but Matthews did his part as he made the All-Star work for every shot, as he scored 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting when the two were matched up.

Given how lethal DeRozan was in that Game 2, the Bucks need to find a way to slow him down in Game 3 and the rest of the series. Matthews will continue to draw that assignment, and if he can make the forward scratch and claw for every single shot, it would help Milwaukee’s odds. He must also defend DeRozan without fouling, as sending the All-Star to the free throw line is guaranteed points for the Bulls. After a 41-point outing Wednesday, DeRozan has found his shooting stroke in this series and will look to keep the momentum going in Game 3, and Matthews must do his part to combat that assault with his robust defense.

Matthews also has the chance to make a major impact offensively, given how well he has shot the basketball in this series. It comes in a small sample size of two games, but Matthews is averaging 8.5 points while shooting 60 percent from the floor and 55.6 percent from three. With Middleton on the sidelines, Matthews will see his shot attempts increase, and if he can sustain this type of efficiency with increased volume, his production could help keep Milwaukee’s offense rolling.

With no Khris Middleton, these two will be even more important for the Milwaukee Bucks as they aim to overshow the Chicago Bulls. Holiday’s offense and Matthews’ defense are two vital factors in this series moving forward, and it starts tonight in Chicago.

Next. The biggest playoff X-factor for each Milwaukee Bucks key reserve. dark

Be sure to catch a highly-anticipated Game 3 tonight at 7:30 p.m. CST on ABC.