After possessing the NBA’s best record in the regular season, the Milwaukee Bucks entered the 2023 NBA Playoffs as the title favorite for many.
Rather than reaching the heights of 2021 once again, the Bucks failed to get off the ground and lost to the Miami Heat, an eighth seed, in five games. It was an organizational failure from top to bottom, and it calls for the Bucks to make some major changes this off-season.
Bucks’ Game 5 loss to Heat calls for significant changes this off-season
First and foremost, the Mike Budenholzer era must come to an end. Budenholzer had not done a great job during the first four games, but the final nail in the coffin was in Game 5. Following one of Jimmy Butler’s late-game buckets that tied the game at 118, the Bucks had the ball with 0.5 seconds to go in regulation. Rather than calling a timeout and drawing a play, Budenholzer stood there and let the game go to overtime. On that same note, Budenholzer’s decision to not insert Brook Lopez into the game to protect the hoop on Butler’s game-tying attempt was horrendous.
If that wasn’t unforgivable enough, Budenholzer also opted not to call a timeout on the final play of overtime despite the Bucks scrambling and looking lost. Instead, the contest and Milwaukee’s title hopes ended with Grayson Allen not even getting a shot off. Both of those miscues sum up this series perfectly, and Budenholzer needs to shoulder the blame for that. Budenholzer’s time with the Bucks has been full of incidents like this, and this should be the final nail in the coffin. Budenholzer’s lack of adjustments in this series was so nauseating.
Yet, this all does not fall onto the shoulders of Budenholzer. Giannis Antetokounmpo shooting a vile 10-of-23 (43.5 percent) from the free throw line was grueling to watch. Jrue Holiday having yet another sub-40 percent shooting night in Milwaukee’s biggest outing of the season and him missing a clutch free throw at the end are haunting. Everyone shares some of the blame for an awful collapse in this entire series. It’s unfathomable that the Bucks shot 5-of-25 (20 percent) in the fourth quarter and overtime.
The Bucks will not be looking to trade Antetokounmpo, but they need to explore their options in the off-season regarding the rest of the roster. This was the oldest team in the league this year, and it showed in the postseason as Milwaukee’s defenders failed to stick with the Heat’s players as they chased them around the floor. As many fans said all season, the Bucks need to get some youth on this roster. There are not too many untouchables on this roster when it comes to trades. In fact, Antetokounmpo could very well be the only one. This series could have a major impact on who is still in town next season.
On that same note, many have questioned whether or not this was the last game for the current Big 3 in Milwaukee. While Antetokoumpo and Holiday are under contract, Khris Middleton is set to ponder a player option. Even if he opts in, it will be interesting to see if the team feels like they can run it back with those three or look to shake things up, perhaps tying in that youth aspect. Though General Manager Jon Horst will not have the most financial flexibility or assets, he is facing one of the most crucial off-seasons in his tenure with the Bucks following this brutal exit.
You cannot lose to an eighth seed with the NBA’s best record and run it back. Change is coming in Milwaukee; it just remains to be seen how much is coming.
Stay tuned for more Milwaukee Bucks analysis this off-season.