Monday has two Game 2s on the slate with the Milwaukee Bucks hosting the Miami Heat and the Denver Nuggets hosting the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Bucks came away with a thrilling overtime win over the Heat to take Game 1, as Khris Middleton came up clutch on a game-winning shot to give his team the series lead.
The Nuggets failed to defend home court in Game 1, with Damian Lillard dominating on the road to the tune of 34 points and 13 assists to steal one on the road.
As Miami prepares to try and even the series and Denver looks to make sure it gets one at home before heading to Portland, what are some keys to watch for in each game?
What to watch for: Bucks-Heat Game 2
Giannis Antetokounmpo and PJ Tucker on Jimmy Butler
Butler may have stepped up with the game on the line in regulation, blowing past Antetokounmpo for an easy layup to send the game into overtime, but it was one of his few makes for Game 1.
Butler had a game to forget as a scorer, only going for 17 points while shooting 4-for-22 from the field and 2-for-9 from 3-point range. The Bucks' game plan to stick Antetokounmpo on Butler proved to be beneficial, as the star forward went 2-for-6 from the field with just five points in 31.8 partial possessions when defended by the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, according to NBA stats.
He also struggled mightily when guarded by stout defenseman PJ Tucker, who held Butler field goal-less (0-for-6) in 9.4 partial possessions in Game 1.
The length of Antetokounmpo and physicality of Tucker disrupted Butler, giving Milwaukee a trusty matchup at all times when the Heat's catalyst was on the floor. How Butler responds to these same matchups in Game 2 could ultimately decide how competitive the remainder of this series will be.
Bucks' 3-point shooting
Milwaukee had its worst 3-point shooting game of the season in Game 1, which is another concerning aspect for the Heat. While you could point to Butler and Bam Adebayo also playing poorly to explain the close score, Milwaukee has to feel comfortable going into Game 2 knowing it's unlikely to shoot that terribly from the perimeter again.
Not only were the five 3-point makes the Bucks' lowest total for a game this season, shooting 16.1 percent from beyond the arc was also their worst single-game 3-point percentage.
Middleton was the only player to convert multiple 3s, and if you take away his 3-for-9 shooting from deep, the rest of the team went an ugly 2-for-22 (9.1%) from beyond the arc. Antetokounmpo (0-for-3), Bryn Forbes (0-for-3) and Jrue Holiday (0-for-5) all missed multiple 3s, while PJ Tucker, Pat Connaughton and Bobby Portis all went 0-for-1.
It's nothing short of a miracle for the Bucks to be outscored by 45 points from the perimeter and still come away with a win, but if they're going to make the deep postseason run they desire, they're going to have to dial in from distance.
What to watch for: Nuggets-Trail Blazers Game 2
Nikola Jokic's playmaking
In Game 1, the Blazers clearly had a gameplan of allowing Jokic to get his offensively as a scorer, but do not let his supporting cast beat you.
The MVP frontrunner, who dished out the third-most assists in the NBA this season, only finished with one single assist in the Nuggets' Game 1 loss to Portland. According to Stathead, Jokic had only been held to one or fewer assists in a game once (!) since 2017 prior to his playmaking being contained in that contest.
Blazers centre Jusuf Nurkic did an fantastic job defending his former teammate, holding Jokic to 6-for-16 shooting from the field and 1-for-5 shooting from deep as the primary defender in 31.2 partial possessions. His physical play on Jokic parlayed with attached-at-the-hip defence from Norman Powell on Michael Porter Jr. and Robert Covington on Aaron Gordon made life difficult for Denver's typically prolific cutters, shutting out passing lanes for the crafty centre.
"I couldn't get the other guys involved," Jokic told the media after the loss. "They made me work for it on every possession."
"It was huge," Lillard said of containing Jokic to one assist. "We know when they're at their best, he's setting the table, he's dominating the game as a playmaker."
If the Nuggets are going to avoid a Game 2 loss, it will start with Jokic getting his teammates easy looks as he has all season.
Taking the ball out of Damian Lillard's hands
Speaking of making stars work on every possession, the Nuggets need to make life more difficult for Lillard than they did in Game 1. Not just as a scorer, but also as a passer.
Lillard had a usage rate of 36.5 percent in Game 1, showing that over one-third of Portland's possessions ended with a play by the star guard. The result? 34 points with five 3-pointers and a playoff career-high 13 assists for Lillard to leave his impact on the victory.
His passing allowed teammates like Carmelo Anthony to catch fire, with Melo being the beneficiary of four Lillard dimes. How much more can you do to stop passes like this?
he just needs a little space pic.twitter.com/Dg6Tg8KOYR- Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) May 23, 2021
Or buckets like this?
just......how?!? pic.twitter.com/77podDPcup- Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) May 23, 2021
That's for head coach Michael Malone to figure out. But Denver desperately needs Facundo Campazzo and Austin Rivers to deny Lillard the ball when he gives it up, making him work tirelessly to get it back.
If they can't step up to that task, it's going to be a tough series for the higher-seeded Nuggets.
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