The Milwaukee Bucks have put on a defensive clinic in the first round

Apr 17, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 17, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

For all of the focus on Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, and how great the Milwaukee Bucks‘ offense was during the regular season, their bread and butter are still on the defensive end that we sometimes take for granted.

Their championship run was one of the great defensive efforts in recent memory but that side of the ball was the most inconsistent through the regular season. They finished with the 14th-best defensive rating (111.1) and it was actually worse post-All Star break (115.8) when the team won 15 of 22 games to secure a top-three seed.

Their defense was something that I wanted to keep my eye on down the stretch for them after such an inconsistent effort through the majority of the regular season. They ended up punting one of those games and went 3-2 but the defensive intensity has been taken to another level in the first round against the Chicago Bulls.

How the Milwaukee Bucks have locked up the Chicago Bulls’ offense

If you want a simple idea of just how good the Bucks’ defense has been through four games of this series without any context, it’s that they have the best defensive rating in the playoffs by nearly 10 points. At 94.2 they are the only team with a defensive rating under 100 so far in the playoffs.

For all of the attention that the Boston Celtics have gotten for shutting down the Brooklyn Nets, their defensive rating is over 20 points higher than Milwaukee’s!

Obviously, context is needed and the Bucks are playing the weaker opponent despite being a lower seed than the Celtics, but it’s still a little incredible what they’ve done to the Bulls’ offense so far in this series.

Chicago struggled a lot after the All-Star break and finished with the 13th best offensive rating at 112.7. They posted a paltry 102.0 offensive rating against the Bucks in the regular season so we should have seen some of this coming.

But holding an NBA team under 100 points in three out of four games, with two of them coming at United Center, is no small feat.

They’ve been so much more active and engaged on defense. Their rotations are quicker and sharper, they’ve helped off of the Bulls’ role players when needed and been in great position seemingly every defensive possession.

Digging into some of the more specific details of the Bucks’ defense in this series, they’re right in the middle of the pack in terms of shot attempts allowed at the rim (20 per game) but have been the best team in terms of defending shots at the rim, holding the Bulls to 57.5 percent shooting in the restricted area.

The frontcourt tandem of Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez have combined to hold the Bulls to 55-of-97 shooting in the restricted area, under 57 percent. After missing Lopez for most of the regular season, the Bucks couldn’t defend the rim as well as they had in years past with teams shooting over 66 percent in the restricted area, a near bottom 10 mark this season.

The Bulls also take a ton of midrange jumpers, it’s where their stars like DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine scored a lot of their points (as well as at the rim), but the Bucks have shut down that area as well.

Antetokounmpo, Lopez, Holiday, and Wesley Matthews are all in the top 10 in terms of midrange shots they’ve been the primary defender for. Holiday has the most at 73 total midrange attempts against and has held the Bulls to under 40 percent shooting. Antetokounmpo is just over 46 percent on 69 attempts, Lopez at 33 percent on 57 attempts, and Matthews under 39 percent on 57 attempts.

Milwaukee allows a ton of midrange shots, it’s what they’re ok with giving up and Chicago will gladly take them (they took nearly 19 per game in the regular season, easily the most) but they’re also doing a good job of contesting those shots and making life difficult for the Bulls’ shooters. They actually lead in contested 2-point shots (37 per game) and overall contested shots (55.5 per game).

Knowing all of this, it would not surprise anyone to find out that the Bucks have the lowest opponent field goal percentage allowed at 39.8 percent on nearly 90 attempts per game.

Both DeRozan and LaVine have seen their scoring averages drop by four and five points respectively in this series compared to their regular season numbers. Coby White, their fourth-leading scorer with Lonzo Ball out, has dropped by six points. Only Nikola Vucevic has seen his points per game average increase and he’s still only shooting 30.3 percent on over eight 3-point attempts per game.

We’ll see if the Bucks can continue their stout defensive effort in round two (assuming they win tomorrow) against a better opponent but it’s a fantastic sign that they’ve been able to lock in and shut down a team with three very talented offensive players.

Grading performances in Milwaukee Bucks’ Game 4 win vs. Chicago Bulls. dark. Next

The Milwaukee Bucks will look to close out their first-round series with another strong defensive performance tomorrow night at Fiserv Forum.