Tuesday, Milwaukee Bucks forward Michael Beasley scored a season high 28 points, as he guided the Bucks past the San Antonio Spurs for a narrow 109-107 victory. After scoring six points in the opening quarter and then going scoreless in the second quarter, Beasley was the guiding force for the Bucks down the stretch in the second half, where he scored 22 of his 28 points in 24 minutes on 9-of-13 shooting during the third and fourth quarter.
After the game, Spurs center Pau Gasol had this to say about the Spurs’ top-ranked defense (prior to the game) being unable to stop Beasley in the second half, as Beasley helped Milwaukee recover from a 13-point deficit to win the game.
“First of all, it starts with individual defense,” said Gasol. “But at the same time, we have to be prepared. They ran, I would say the same two plays, maybe 80% of the time and they scored effectively. We’re supposed to be a pretty good defensive team and a sign of a good defensive team is just not one player. Not just two players, it’s the entire team working together, being aware of what’s going on on the floor and not allowing, I mean, a guy can score one time on a certain play, maybe twice, but that’s it. Somebody else has to do something, we’ve got to get the ball out of his hands and not concede those type of plays, those type of points. We just let it roll, and we paid the price.”
So what were those two plays Gasol might have been referring to? It was likely the Bucks’ use of the 1-4 pick-and-roll and having Beasley operate in isolation on either the left or right elbow. First, let’s examine the 1-4 P&R the Bucks used with Matthew Dellavedova (1) and Beasley (4) to either get Beasley (6’10”) with a mismatch on Danny Green (6’6”), Jonathon Simmons (6’6”) or rookie Davis Bertans (6’10”). The basic play diagram is shown below, even though the Bucks used it from different areas on the floor.
The reason this play was so effective was because the Bucks were playing a small ball lineup down the stretch versus the Spurs, which allowed Beasley, who has the skill set of a scoring small forward to either go against defenders that were smaller than him like Green and Simmons, or Beasley could work against Bertans off the dribble. Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs’ best defensive player, was usually occupied on the weak side guarding Jabari Parker, and so when the Spurs eventually put Leonard on Beasley, the Bucks started going to more isolation looks for Beasley directly at the left or right elbow, and then the team just spread shooting all around him. The video below shows Beasley operating in the 1-4 pick and roll and then in isolation at the elbow. One of the few times he did miss down the stretch was when he tried to score over Leonard in isolation at the elbow.
You have to give Bucks Head Coach Jason Kidd some credit too. When the Spurs made an adjustment by having Leonard guard the point guard to make the switch on the 1-4 P&R so he could be defending Beasley, the Bucks got craftier in using the double screen action to get Beasley free from Leonard and in position to attack the rim, where he could either score, or pass to a teammate.
Now in the next video below, you can see how Beasley found Greg Monroe for a layup and then Malcolm Brogdon for a 3-pointer with the use of the double screen play.
Overall, Tuesday’s outcome was not something both teams shouldn’t get too high or too low on because of the circumstances heading into that game. For San Antonio, they were missing their second All-Star in LaMarcus Aldridge, who provides a whole other level to their offense and defense. For Milwaukee, their go-to player in Giannis Antetokounmpo was under the weather and he played less than 10 minutes in the game, where the coaching staff shut him down after the first half. So, if Giannis is healthy and playing, Beasley likely doesn’t have the ball in his hands as much and the Bucks probably aren’t running plays for him to create for their offense. In fact, Beasley is seventh on the Bucks in shot attempts, so when the team has their core lineups present, Beasley is further down in terms of being one of the go-to players.
Still, Beasley walked away Tuesday with a new season high in scoring and Coach Kidd knows a lineup that was effective down the stretch in a game in case he needs to go back to that unit in the future. For the Spurs, the loss will give their defense something to work on in the event a player gets hot again and those types of sets are being used over and over against their defense.