Dominating interior is the biggest key for Milwaukee Bucks to flip series

It’s hard to remain positive after a blowout playoff loss followed by three off days for travel and rest but as the Milwaukee Bucks stare down a 1-1 series heading back to Fiserv Forum, there’s actually plenty of reason to remain optimistic.

Sure, I’ve been overly optimistic all season and explained why I’m still optimistic after said blowout loss. One of the biggest reasons why I’m still optimistic that I didn’t mention previously is how much the Bucks have taken away the paint from the Boston Celtics.

On the flip side, there’s a bit of concern with how the Celtics have limited the Bucks’ offense in and around the restricted area. The war in the trenches will be what flips this series and the Bucks will need to control it at both ends if they want to take a 2-1 series lead.

The good and bad of the Milwaukee Bucks’ interior presence through two games

Let’s structure this like one of those weird compliment sandwiches that people think are effective. We’ll start with something good about the Bucks’ interior presence, then something worrisome, and finish with something good.

Starting with some good: the Celtics are getting absolutely nothing inside. They’re averaging 18.5 shots in the restricted area and eight shots in the paint (non-restricted area) in the first two games of the series.

In the first round, they averaged 27 and 13.5 as well as 24.1 and 15.5 in the regular season, respectively. That’s a bit of a drop-off!

This is what has led the Celtics to take 66 total above the break 3s (33 per game, quick math) so far which is the second-most of any team in the second round (Memphis leads with 68). They took nearly 10 fewer per game in the first round and five fewer per game in the regular season.

Milwaukee, as we all know, is completely fine giving up above the break 3s to mediocre to bad shooters such as Marcus Smart and Grant Williams (who shot 40 percent in the regular season from 3 but only 35 percent above the break).

Boston got unseasonably hot in the first half of Game 2 in part because they generated open corner 3s, which the Bucks don’t like to give up as much, but that’s still a bet that head coach Mike Budenholzer will make every time.

As for the other end… stop attacking Robert Williams! He’s good and it’s not working, stop it!

Williams is holding the Bucks to under 60 percent shooting in the restricted area on 11 attempts per game and under 32 percent in the paint on non-restricted area attempts on 9.5 shots a night. That’s not good for Milwaukee and I’m legitimately befuddled every time I see someone not named Giannis Antetokounmpo or Brook Lopez trying to score on him inside.

Williams would have been my choice for Defensive Player of the Year had he stayed healthy all season and you’re seeing why in this series despite playing limited minutes in his recovery from meniscus surgery.

The Bucks are shooting over 70 percent against Al Horford and Grant Williams on higher volume. Everyone not named Giannis has had success against Horford so finding ways to go at those two while also getting Antetokounmpo easier looks around the basket will be imperative.

Finally, while the Bucks haven’t been allowing shots at the rim, even when the Celtics get there, they haven’t been able to score.

As an example, the Phoenix Suns have taken fewer than 18 shots per game at the rim in the second round. They don’t generate a ton of rim pressure as it is but when they get there, they’re shooting over 74 percent.

Boston, again, is shooting fewer than 20 times in the restricted area per game but is only converting 54.1 percent of those shots. It’s even worse on non-restricted area paint attempts where they’re shooting a putrid 12.5 percent.

A concern has been that when the Bucks play their conservative drop coverage, guys such as Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum will be able to get their midrange or floater range shots. 12.5 percent from floater range and 36.8 percent from midrange.

It has been a total team effort from Antetokounmpo to Lopez to Jrue Holiday and the guards to chase and contest from behind to make life difficult.

The Bucks have dictated what the Celtics get on offense, which is a huge sign going forward in this series. Boston is playing right into their hands and taking exactly what Milwaukee wants. One is betting that they can get hot three more times and the other is betting they can’t.

Offensively, the loss of Khris Middleton is being felt when they can’t generate the same type of playmaking in pick-and-roll with Antetokounmpo. Boston doesn’t fear anyone else as the ball handler outside of Holiday and it makes life very easy on their defense.

I’m not smarter than Budenholzer so I don’t have the answers for how they can make up for that loss long enough until Middleton returns, but that, along with Antetokounmpo figuring out the Horford problem, are the biggest things to watch for in Game 3.

The Milwaukee Bucks will need to continue dominating inside at one end while figuring out how to dominate at the other end in Game 3 tomorrow at 2:30 pm CT.