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NBA Finals: Bucks seemed lost in Game 1 while trying to counter Suns' challenges

Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo passes around Suns forward

Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo passes around Suns forward Mikal Bridges  during the first half in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday in Phoenix. Credit: AP/Matt York

Mike Budenholzer has won coach of the year honors twice with two different franchises, establishing himself as a veteran, smart, and most of all, winning coach. But no matter the credentials, when you reach the NBA Finals and particularly if you start it off with the sort of performance the Milwaukee Bucks displayed in Game 1, you will hear from the critics.

And in the case of Budenholzer, the messages have not only come from the parade of experts commenting around the clock, but from his own roots. His father, Vince, who was a legendary high school coach long before the son made a name for himself, is among those with ideas.

"Yeah, it's funny," the younger Budenholzer said Wednesday after practice. "I'll lead with the difference between the NBA and high school. He wants to us press every minute of every game. He doesn't understand why we don't press more. And one of his favorite lines to me was, you should press as soon as they get off the bus.

"So that was philosophically -- but if you take that notion, that idea of full-court pressure, I think there's an idea of playing hard and competing and being aggressive. I think conversely he talked about playing fast and shooting. I don't think the three-point line was in, to be honest with you, but he wanted to press and run, press and run. We don't press, but we try to guard and then run. I think he had a great passion. At the end of the day, he coached with a ton of passion. I remember it, and hopefully that's what I do."

While it may be an unreasonable ask to pressure a player like Chris Paul and expect the results from a high school game, you can’t blame his father for trying something. In the first game, like most first games for the Bucks in the postseason, they seemed lost to try to counter the challenges the Phoenix Suns presented.

Too often the Suns were able to get the Bucks caught in awkward switches, seven-foot Brook Lopez isolated against Paul or Devin Booker. There were similar issues when the Bucks dropped Game 1 against Atlanta, fell behind two games to none against Brooklyn and even barely got by Miami in the first game fo the opening round series before sweeping them.

The odd part of this was that the Suns looked ready for everything even with a pair of first-year members of the team in the starting lineup in Paul and Jae Crowder. While the others in the lineup - Booker, Mikal Bridges and DeAndre Ayton - have never been in the postseason before, the group combined to play like a veteran group.

While the Bucks seem to be in a constant learning process through the season and postseason, the Suns just seemed to get it. But even they admitted the lessons came - just came early in the season when head coach Monty Williams had harsh words for the starting five.

"We sat down -- it wasn't just me and Chris. It was the whole starting five," Booker said. "We were just really honest with each other. I always say we hang our hat on the defensive end, and that's where most of the conversation was. We obviously have to figure out chemistry on the offensive end and how we're going to move and what pace we're going to move at, but if we're not going to be scoring, the other team can't be scoring either. And those conversations, all those bits and pieces, all those moments I think are why we're in the position we're in right now. But we still have to get the job done."

It might not be hard if the Bucks just kept doing the same thing. Paul lit them up in the third quarter once he saw how the Bucks were playing defensively - and not adjusting. But in every series, as doubts have risen, the Bucks have managed to change, and then ride the production of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday.

"We learned a lot of stuff," Lopez said. "We have a lot we can look at now and review and go forward after that."

New York Sports