Bucks

Jrue’s Return to Jolt Ailing Bucks Defense

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After a strong start to their six-game road trip, the Milwaukee Bucks dropped their next five games before resurfacing over their last four.

What does this all have in common? No Jrue Holiday.

Prior to being sidelined, Holiday glued this Milwaukee defense, averaging a league-high 1.9 steals per game. Without him, the defense looks shaky, allowing an average of about 121 points per game in losses. Holiday has missed 10 contests after supposedly testing positive for COVID-19 between February 6th-8th.

Earlier this week, Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said Holiday was “very close” to returning.

The NBA’s COVID protocols say that if a player tests positive, they must sit out for at least ten days with no physical activity after the positive test. There has been no confirmed date of when Holiday tested positive or his last-known symptoms, hence the extended absence.

Stepping Into the Starting Lineup

With Holiday out, the Bucks initially used Bryn Forbes to start in his place. Forbes was the obvious choice to fill in for Holiday, after he went a perfect 6/6 on threes in his first start for Milwaukee and had been an everyday starter in San Antonio for two seasons, averaging north of 11 points per game on better-than-40% shooting from deep.

In his six starts with the Bucks, Forbes averaged nearly 12 points per game on 50% shooting from the field and 41% from behind the arc before D.J. Augustin replaced him. Bryn had one of his best games in the one-point loss against Phoenix, scoring 17 points with five triples.

Milwaukee inserted Augustin for Forbes after dropping their fifth-straight game. While Augustin isn’t as much of a knockdown shooter as Forbes, a change may have been what the Bucks needed to stop the losing skid.

If the last ten games have shown anything, the Bucks need Holiday for his defense more than his offense.

Defensive Struggles

In two of the final three games of the road trip, the Bucks faced Phoenix and Utah. These matchups were bad news for the Bucks since Holiday is their best defensive guard. It’s more than likely Jrue draws Devin Booker, who finished the game with a team-high 30 points — and was extremely useful down the stretch in the Suns’ comeback win — and Donovan Mitchell, who had 26 of his own albeit on semi-inefficient shooting

That’s a combined 56 points for Jrue’s regular defensive assignments.

It was the same tale when the Raptors came to Milwaukee for a two-game home series. Raptors guard Fred VanVleet got shots up from wherever he wanted, and the Bucks lost both games.

Holiday has been a nightmare for opposing guards, but his return means more than personal hell for the opposition’s stars. Defensive negatives in Forbes and Augustin don’t possess anywhere near the same qualities Holiday has, allowing vital games from Booker, Mitchell, and VanVleet.

Recent Issues

Although the Bucks won their last four, the situation remains imperfect. Oklahoma City, Sacramento, Minnesota and New Orleans are all below .500, so many expected the Bucks to go 4-0. Milwaukee took care of the first three with ease but struggled defensively when New Orleans came to town Thursday night.

The Bucks’ defense struggled to slow down the first-time all-star Zion Williamson, who played bully ball for most of the first half. Zion scored 24 in the first half and 34 overall. Many of his points came on switches made by the Bucks’ defense where Donte DiVincenzo or Pat Connaughton guarded Zion. That shortcoming is unacceptable considering Williamson has demolished big men all season.

Another issue the Bucks have had recently is points off the bench. Against the Pelicans, New Orleans’ bench outscored Milwaukee’s 25-12. It’s no secret MKE doesn’t have one of the best reserve groups in the league, but more production will be necessary to make a deep playoff run.

Bucks Fortunate

Fortunately for Milwaukee, Giannis, Khris and Donte all came to play against New Orleans. Giannis had a game-high 38, with Middleton adding 31 and DiVincenzo scoring a career-high 24 points. The Bucks seemingly had the game secured until the Pelicans stole the ball with ten seconds left, down three. Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram both had somewhat-open looks at a shot to tie the game with only a few seconds left.

Before the Pelicans could get a shot off, DiVincenzo took a charge that led to Giannis making 1/2 free throws. This put the Bucks up 129-125, the game’s final score.

True, the Bucks dispatched their wanting competition. Against stiffer foes, however, they’ll need a boost. Jrue’s return should do just that.

If the Bucks can quickly readjust their lineup with Holiday’s superb defense injection, fans can forget recent struggles. Fear the Deer won’t be a cliché anymore; instead, Jrue’s pride can return it to a way of life.

Follow us on Twitter @BucksLead for the latest Bucks news and insight. 

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