NBA Finals 2021

NBA Finals 2021: What to watch for in Game 2 between Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks

The Phoenix Suns pick-and-rolled the Milwaukee Bucks to a Game 1 victory, leaving head coach Mike Budenholzer with plenty of adjustments to be made ahead of Game 2.

With Chris Paul going for 32 points and nine assists, Devin Booker tallying 27 points and six assists, and Deandre Ayton adding 22 points and 19 rebounds, the Bucks will need to find an answer to contain the Suns' Big 3.

Can Milwaukee push the right buttons to steal one game in Phoenix before returning home for Game 3?

Here's what to watch for in Game 2.

Bucks' pick-and-roll defence

Going into Game 1, the biggest question facing Milwaukee was how it planned to stop Paul, Booker and Ayton in pick-and-roll scenarios. After Phoenix picked apart one of the best defences in the league, NBA.com's Scott Rafferty wrote on how the Bucks' game plan allowed Paul to turn back the clock to his Houston Rockets days, while I wrote on how Ayton was the key to making the Suns' favourite offensive set so unstoppable.

Milwaukee played a switch-heavy defence, which often left big man Brook Lopez out on an island with two of the best pick-and-roll shot creators in the NBA. Paul and Booker took turns attacking Lopez and reserve center Bobby Portis, and even when the two centers contained the guards long enough to get the ball out of their hands, it was usually for a dime inside to Ayton for easy layups.

The Bucks used PJ Tucker to guard Paul and Jrue Holiday to guard Booker, trying to keep strong and stout defenders on Ayton once the switch occurred, but the size mismatch inside and the agility mismatch on the perimeter made Game 1 a field day for Phoenix's Big 3.

Budenholzer tried to make a number of adjustments on the fly, from fronting Ayton on switches, to going to their drop coverage, to playing Giannis Antetokounmpo as a small-ball centre, but nothing worked well enough to get the job done.

With Paul, Booker and Ayton combining for 81 of the team's 118 points, a new game plan will need to be devised.

In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, we saw Atlanta Hawks star guard Trae Young terrorize the Bucks to the tune of 48 points and 11 assists with the majority of the damage coming in the pick-and-roll. Milwaukee learned from its mistakes and pulled all the right strings in Game 2, using a variety of double-teams and traps to get the ball out of Young's hands, holding him to his lowest scoring and assist total to that point in the playoffs.

The difference here is that the Bucks need to worry about two playmakers, not just one. Even so, will we see Budenholzer craft a similar strategy to try and make someone other than Paul and Booker beat them in Game 2?

Jrue Holiday's offensive output

Holiday has a ton of weight on his shoulders in this series, but that's exactly why the Bucks traded three players, three future first-round picks and two additional draft swaps for the two-way guard.

He is not only responsible for matching up with Booker, Paul when Booker isn't on the floor or Ayton on switches, but he's also a vital part to the team's success offensively. While defence is Holiday's priority, the Bucks desperately need him to produce on both ends of the floor to win games.

In Game 1, Holiday did just about as much as he could to try and contain the player in front of him, but his scoring output was lacklustre. He finished with 10 points while shooting 4-for-14 from the field and 0-for-4 from 3-point range, adding to what has been an up-and-down postseason in terms of scoring.

In these playoffs, Holiday has six games with 20-plus points but also eight games with fewer than 15 points.

Take a look at how Holiday's shooting splits have fluctuated from series to series.

Jrue Holiday's shooting splits by series in 2021 NBA Playoffs
PPG FG% 3P% FT%
First Round vs. MIA 15.3 48.1 20.0 66.7
East Semifinals vs. BKN 15.1 36.1 26.1 72.7
Conference Finals vs. ATL 22.0 46.4 37.0 61.9

Holiday's assists output, however, has remained strong, averaging 8.4 assists per game. He has eight or more assists in 12 of 18 games played. While the Bucks are a solid 8-4 in the playoffs when Holiday dishes out eight-plus assists, they're 5-1 when he goes for 20 points or more.

In order to keep up with his high-powered Suns' offence, the Bucks desperately need Holiday to reach that threshold in Game 2.

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