Clutch time is where the real money is made in the NBA. It’s what separates the ballers from the posers, the winners from the losers, and the Kobe’s from the Lebron’s. Robert Horry made a living hitting shots late in the game when his teams needed it most. Performing in clutch time is how the average teams become good and the good teams become great. The Cavaliers, Celtics, Warriors, and Spurs (the top teams in their respective conferences) have the highest win percentage in the NBA during clutch games. There is nothing better than hitting a tough, in your face shot late in the fourth quarter with the game hanging in the balance. I’ve been practicing my mean mug in the mirror for years hoping that during one of these pick-up basketball games I’ll finally hit a shot over a 45 year-old, sweaty man, wearing goggles, new balance shoes, and high socks. If that time ever comes you are damn sure you will see me mean mugging my way to the locker room yelling “Game Time.”
That brings us to the Milwaukee Bucks and their clutch time sadness. I could name a plethora of stats backing up the narrative that the Bucks are an atrocious clutch time team. So I will. Of all games that have had any minutes played in clutch time here is where the Bucks rank: 24th in win percentage, 30th in offensive rating, 27th in assist to turnover ratio, 29th in defensive rebounding percentage, 29th in total rebound percentage, and 29th in true shooting percentage. As my mom would say “ouuufta.” You can find all the NBA clutch stats your little heart desires here. You probably already know everything I just shared and am wondering what this dudes point is. This dudes point is that he went inside the film to figure out exactly why The Milwaukee Bucks are a Lebron and not a Kobe.
The Young Bucks are a fairly inexperienced team and they don’t have a starting player over 26 years old. This youth is never more apparent than in late game situations when the score is close. I went back and re-watched the clutch time of 11 different Bucks games and there was not one single time where they correctly executed a side-out out of bounds play. All of these plays came after a Jason Kidd timeout and are typically golden opportunities for teams to design a play to get an easy basket or wide open look. Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr are masterminds in these situations, constantly getting their best players a good look at the rim in a high pressure situation. The Bucks on the other hand have often times inexplicably turned the ball over simply trying to get the ball in bounds.
The following two plays are perfect examples why the Bucks have the worst offensive rating during clutch time. On the first play; Milwaukee is up by one point and is coming off a time out by Kidd. The Bucks have designed a basic play for Parker and Monroe to pinch screen Antetokounmpo’s man, freeing him up to receive the inbound pass from Delledova. The screens weren’t very successful but Giannis was able to use his body to get himself into a position to receive the pass. However the pass from Delledova was either too hard or Giannis just loses concentration and it went into the back court for a turnover.
On this second play the Bucks actually executed the action portion very well. Bucks are down one this time with 35.9 seconds left to play. Again, it’s nothing extravagant but it should have worked. Jabari set a simple back screen on Antetokounmpo’s man who ended up slipping on the play. That left Giannis wide open for a lob pass from Monroe. Only Monroe threw such an awful pass Giannis couldn’t even get his hands on it and it went out of bounds for another Bucks turnover.
The Milwaukee Bucks don’t just struggle with turnovers on side out plays, they are flat-out bad at protecting the basketball during crunch time. To begin with, the Bucks are just outside the bottom third in the NBA in turnover percentage. But when clutch time hits they take their turnovers to the next level. Milwaukee turns the ball over on 16.1 percent of their possessions during clutch time compared to 14.6 percent of the time otherwise. It all comes down to fundamentals for these Young Bucks. A lot of these are careless and lackadaisical turnovers where Milwaukee players are not being strong with the ball nor sticking to the basics of basketball.
This play started with chaos but the Bucks ended up getting the steal and had a chance to take a very late lead over Boston. Milwaukee pushed the ball quickly after the turnover, looking for an easy basket. Once Jabari realized there was nothing there he should have brought the ball back up top and held for the last shot. Instead, he broke one of the cardinal rules of basketball; never leave your feet to throw a pass. Jabari jumped in the air and tried to throw a pass back out to Greg Monroe but ended up throwing the ball out of bounds after a hustling Isaiah Thomas came into the play late. This was a killer for the Bucks because it took away a great opportunity at getting a shot to win the game.
Another reason the Milwaukee Bucks struggle in clutch time is due to their inability to rebound the ball. Offensive rebounds and second chance points are an easy way to get big baskets during the most important periods of the game. This aspect is essentially a non-factor for the Bucks which takes away from the opportunities they could potentially have. The Bucks struggle on both ends of the floor to rebound the basketball. I previously outlined a certain player’s rebound woes you can check out here. During clutch time Milwaukee only grabs 67 percent of defensive rebounds , 18 percent of offensive rebounds and 42.9 percent of all available rebounds. They rank in the bottom three in the NBA in each of those categories.
The good news for the Bucks is that they have shown flashes of being a team who can be successful in clutch time. On January 10th vs the Spurs, their only clutch time victory in their last six chances, Milwaukee had success with Malcom Brogdon and Greg Monroe playing the two-man game. On January 28th against the Celtics the Bucks ran their offense through Greg Monroe. Monroe was able to get good position in the post and hit some tough shots late in the fourth quarter. The Matthew Delledova- Giannis Antetokounmpo pick and roll has had very mixed results. It usually produces either a Delle turnover or a spectacular play by Giannis. On this play vs the Nuggets on February 3rd it created a wide open three for Giannis, who took advantage of the opportunity.
The overall struggles Milwaukee experiences in clutch time is to be expected at this point in their development. They are a young team trying to climb the ladder of success and doing it without one of their best floor spacers. Whether its Milwaukee having a difficult time executing designed plays or getting careless with the ball the Bucks have an uncanny knack for displaying their inexperience at the most inopportune times. When the going gets tough, the tough get going and it’s fair to say Milwaukee isn’t tough right now.