If Friday’s battle between the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks actually was a preview of the NBA Finals, then the basketball world ought to begin gearing up for a 17th Lakers championship in June. While the 2 juggernauts traded blows on their option to a 48-48 halftime tie, the Lakers took management with a commanding 39-28 benefit within the third quarter that pushed their lead as much as 11. The Bucks made issues attention-grabbing within the fourth quarter, reducing the deficit right down to 4 halfway by means of, however the Lakers pulled away late to not solely win the sport, however clinch a playoff spot.

Leading the best way for the Lakers was, as anticipated, LeBron James. While Giannis Antetokounmpo stays the heavy MVP favourite, it was James that dominated this recreation with a stellar line of 37 factors, seven assists and eight rebounds en path to the victory.

While he began gradual because of foul hassle, Anthony Davis wasn’t far behind. He completed the sport with 30 factors of his personal, together with 10 within the fourth quarter. James wanted some assist from his teammates down the stretch, and Davis supplied it.

Antetokounmpo put up numbers for the Bucks, however not almost as effectively as traditional. His 32 factors got here on 10-of-21 taking pictures because the Lakers successfully walled off the paint for a lot of the sport. He did not assist issues by making solely one among his six 3-point makes an attempt, a far cry from his 5-of-Eight explosion within the first matchup between these groups.

His teammates did not assist him almost sufficient to offset his personal lower than a spectacular night. Donte DiVincenzo’s 17 factors led the non-Giannis Bucks whereas Khris Middleton went 5-of-19 from the sphere. If the Bucks plan to beat the Lakers in June, their supporting items should be higher. Fortunately, these groups nonetheless have a number of months to arrange for a possible rematch.

With that in thoughts, let’s take a look at crucial takeaways from tonight’s recreation.

The Lakers discovered an attention-grabbing option to overcome Milwaukee’s rim-protection

If you disregard the period, the Bucks have had one of many biggest defensive seasons in NBA historical past. By permitting solely 101 factors per 100 possessions up to now this season, they’ve created a four-point hole between themselves and the No. 2 Toronto Raptors at 105. That’s an identical to the hole between the Raptors and the No. 12 Chicago Bulls at 109. Their elite protection is constructed largely round rim-protection. No staff permits fewer pictures on the rim or a decrease discipline objective share on these pictures. For a Lakers staff that lives and dies on the rim, that represents a really actual downside in a possible Finals matchup.

So how did the Lakers get round it? By working straight by means of it. Literally. When their massive males set ball screens, they did not roll to the basket with the intention of scoring. They did so basically as legally shifting screeners, clearing a straightforward path for James to assault the basket.

The Lakers will not be the primary staff to make use of this trick this season. It’s grown more and more standard as a result of it is almost inconceivable to legislate. A typical shifting display normally comes from gamers jogging as much as the ball or beginning in a stationary place. McGee was in almost a full dash right here, as rollers usually are, and there’s a lot contact in a typical pick-and-roll that discerning the distinction between that and a display in real-time is extraordinarily troublesome, even when it is apparent on replay.

The Bucks can have an answer by the point these groups meet once more, in the event that they even do, however on Friday, it helped LeBron carve up the NBA’s finest protection.

When the chips had been down, each groups went small

Size is among the largest benefits these groups have over the sphere. The Lakers are one of many few NBA groups to constantly play two conventional massive males. The Bucks nearly all the time have a minimum of one, plus Giannis, who exists outdoors of classes however supplies all the issues a conventional massive would possibly. Defensive size is a uncommon reward, and each groups have it in abundance.

But each groups eschewed it in favor of ball-handling and taking pictures late on this one. The Lakers went to their conventional crunchtime alignment with Davis at middle, James at level guard, and three shooters in between, however on Friday, all three of these shooters (Alex Caruso, Avery Bradley and Danny Green) had been guards. The Bucks took issues simply as far. Antetokounmpo performed middle down the stretch, with Middleton as the one true ahead on the ground with three guards.

Calling these small-ball lineups is unfair within the grand scheme of issues. Davis and Antetokounmpo are giants who occur to do slot in any lineup construction. But they had been small by the requirements these groups have set. It goes to point out that even with the Warriors gone, small-ball continues to be going to be a defining attribute of the postseason’s recreation of matchup chess.

So… are we certain the Bucks can rating late in shut playoff video games?

Yes, it is a drained narrative, however in maybe crucial shut recreation of their season up to now, the Bucks scored 9 factors within the ultimate 5:52 of this recreation. Middleton shot 5-for-19 for the sport, and Eric Bledsoe, who melted in final yr’s postseason, was solely 5-for-13.

Ironically, the Bucks have truly had a greater clutch offense than the Lakers this season. The Lakers are ranked 17th in scoring solely 105.7 factors per 100 clutch possessions, whereas the Bucks are 12th at 109.2. But LeBron’s clutch credentials are verified. Antetokounmpo’s aren’t, and with no conventional second star teammate, questions on Milwaukee’s clutch offense are going to persist till they’re put to mattress within the postseason. Tonight did not precisely assist issues.

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