Milwaukee Bucks Film Room: Swat Mountain Does It Again

Oct 26, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Yuta Watanabe (18) grabs a rebound against Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez (11) in the second quarter at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 26, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Yuta Watanabe (18) grabs a rebound against Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez (11) in the second quarter at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

The Milwaukee Bucks used a huge second-half surge to overcome a double-digit deficit and earn a victory against the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night.

The victory helped Milwaukee remain undefeated at 3-0 and was another strong defensive performance from a team off to a scorching start on that end of the court. Their offense also came to life after a sluggish start to the game–thanks, in large part, to Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The defense is where I want to center our attention in this film review. The Bucks missed Brook Lopez for nearly the entirety of last season and it showed in their defensive play. The mammoth seven-footer is back and better than ever (is that safe to say?). He’s been everything Milwaukee has needed and more.

Milwaukee Bucks’ center Brook Lopez is off to a fantastic start on the defensive end of the court this season, including his performance against the Nets.

There was one play in particular that stood out to me as I was reviewing the film from last night’s game: A Lopez block with 6:04 remaining in the fourth quarter.

With Milwaukee on the verge of a run that would permanently separate the two teams, Brooklyn went back to their bread and butter: a pick-and-roll involving Kyrie Irving as the ball-handler. Irving had caught fire just a few minutes earlier, scoring seven straight points for the Nets to tip-off the fourth quarter. However, they were in the midst of a dry spell and had come up empty nine possessions in a row. The following made it 10.

George Hill is at the point of attack, guarding Irving slightly to the right of the top of the key. He knows all of his teammates are guarding players along the left side of the arc with nobody but Lopez and Ben Simmons on the right. Simmons will come up and set a hefty ball screen on Hill.

Simmons was setting mean screens all game long; this was another great example. Hill tries to fight over the top to contest a pull-up three if Irving so desires. However, he gets caught on the screen and is taken out of the play. This leaves Lopez in a nightmare scenario: One on one with one of the greatest ball-handlers and shot-creators alive. This position is goblins and ghouls frightening for even the best on-ball defenders in the world, nonetheless, a seven-footer who spends as much time in the paint as legally (and illegally) possible.

Before we check back in on Lopez, let’s move our attention to the three help defenders on the floor. Jrue Holiday, Grayson Allen and Antetokounmpo are each guarding players lined up on the three-point line. In Holiday and Allen’s case–an elite shooter. Even Royce O’Neal had knocked down some outside shots in this game.

In years past, Holiday would’ve left Kevin Durant and aggressively helped on Irving’s shot attempt while Antetokounmpo would’ve also stretched to contest. The new version of the Bucks’ defense has everyone staying more attached to their man and letting the players directly involved in the action do the heavy lifting. This plays out for Holiday and Allen (you can see Holiday’s instincts to help almost kick in before he hops back to Durant) while Antetokounmpo leisurely watches the action. (Give him a break. He was gassed from carrying the team throughout the entire second half.)

Now we can finally turn our attention to the star of the show. When we last left Lopez he was in a worst-case scenario: One on one with one of the most creative finishers in the game. It’s even gotten worse since then, as it’s clear there isn’t any help coming from his teammates.

Hit play on the second clip below. I slowed it down for us after Irving comes off the ball screen to better appreciate the fundamentals Lopez shows off. He’s crouched extremely low while slightly backpedaling and ready to pounce in any direction Irving might take him. His job is to stay between the ball and the basket and he does just that.

Irving hits him with an in-and-out dribble that leads directly to a crossover to his left hand. His feet simultaneously go into a left foot, right foot dance with a slight hesitation before another mini-step with his right. A waltz designed with the evilest of intentions. He continues to rise with his left hand in an attempt to throw a floater into the hoop. Lopez is having none of it and sticks with him every step and half-step of the way. He pounces from his stance, not a second too soon or a second too late, and tips the shot to himself.

Lopez has been a beast to begin the season. He’s as spry and dominant as we’ve ever seen him.

There are still a lot of games left to play, and the Bucks need to ensure he’s healthy if they want any chance at reclaiming the top spot in the NBA. However, at this rate, Splash Mountain might need to be renamed to Swat Mountain.