MILWAUKEE — In the long two days between Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer spent considerable time plotting ways to slow Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young.
"It's kind of that fun time of year when you play great players from series to series in the different ways that they kind of test you defensively," Budenholzer said 105 minutes before Game 2 on Friday. "I guess as coaches, you're just trying to see if there's something that makes sense for our group, for our players defensively, that puts them in their best position to succeed against a player that is very gifted and talented.
"It's the playoff ritual, you know, trying to figure out how to guard the great players. It's part of what I'm sure is great for the fans and I'm sure in some strange way it's great for the coaches. It's a great challenge. A lot of work and time goes into it."
That work yielded results for the Bucks in the second game of the series.
They limited Young’s offensive output, forced him into turnovers and ran away with a 125-91 victory, tying the series at 1-1.
Jrue Holiday talks about shutting down Trae Young and the #Bucks’ Game 2 win.#NBAPlayoffs | #FearTheDeerpic.twitter.com/MZeC4CWxHj
The question: Did the Bucks find the right defensive game plan to slow Young, who had his way often against New York in the first round, Philadelphia in the second round and in Game 1?
That answer will play out over the series. Just like Milwaukee did between games, the Hawks will make adjustments for Game 3 at home.
But the Bucks may have found some long-term answers. They perhaps discovered a solution in the fourth quarter of Game 1: keep Young out of the lane as much as possible, allow him to shoot 3-pointers and be physical without fouling.
In Game 1, Young scored 16 of his 48 points in the paint, threw alley-oops to John Collins with lobs that look like his floaters and went to the foul line 12 times.
In Game 2, Young had just 15 points, committed nine turnovers and took just three free throws. Young is shooting just 23.8% on 3-pointers in the series and is just 1-for-12 in the past five quarters against the Bucks.
"Just be more active," Budenholzer said. "We needed everybody to be more active and the guys, they were great."
“𝗪𝗲 𝗵𝗮𝘃𝗲 𝘁𝗼 𝗳𝗶𝗴𝘂𝗿𝗲 𝗼𝘂𝘁 𝗮 𝘄𝗮𝘆 𝘁𝗼 𝗯𝗼𝘂𝗻𝗰𝗲 𝗯𝗮𝗰𝗸, 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝘄𝗲 𝘄𝗶𝗹𝗹.” pic.twitter.com/1faGQpUvBn
Bucks 6-3, 205-pound point guard Jrue Holiday has size on the 6-1, 180-pound Young.
"There are times where I need to be physical with him and there are other times where I want him to think I'm going to be physical and I'm going to an extreme," Holiday said. "I know he does a thing where he comes off and jumps back into you, certain things like that, kind of playing that game. I was definitely smarter tonight, smarter than how I played the first game."
Bucks center Brook Lopez also had a much improved defensive outing with three steals and a block and did a much better job protecting the rim when Young got into the paint. Five of Young’s turnovers came when Lopez, with his hands and large frame, disrupted his drives into the lane.
"He's got such a good feel and good read in the pick-and-roll defense," Budenholzer said. "He was at his best and that's what we need from Brook. He's just got great timing, great understanding of spacing, defensive spacing."
The Hawks didn’t find it so much a schematic change as it was Milwaukee’s intensity and focus.
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