Brook Lopez manning the middle for Milwaukee so far this postseason looks a lot like the big guy who played for the Nets in their 2013 and 2015 playoff appearances.
The version of Lopez who helped the Bucks snag the East’s No. 1 seed the past two years? Not so much.
But it’s working out fine for Milwaukee against the Miami Heat, evident in the Bucks’ 3-0 edge in this first-round series.
Lopez, adapting to the changes in the Bucks’ offensive and defensive schemes this season, has found himself well inside the 3-point line where he earned the nickname “Splash Mountain.” After working to become a 3-point shooting threat in 2017-18 with the Lakers and in his Milwaukee stint since, Lopez has attempted only eight shots from beyond the arc through three games and made just one.
That’s reminiscent of his performance in the Nets’ series against Chicago (2013) and Atlanta (2015), when he went 1-for-1 across 13 total games. Far more so than the combined 43-for-128 he shot on 3-pointers in 25 playoff games with the Bucks the last two postseasons.
Defensively, Lopez hasn’t changed much across his career. But much had changed around him in the regular season, with Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer employing more switching while incorporating new toys such as Jrue Holiday and P.J. Tucker into their schemes.
The tinkering came with a price — a slide from the NBA’s No. 1 defence per 100 possessions (102.5) to No. 9 (110.7). And Lopez slid right along with it, from 100.1 in 2019-20 to 110.2. His net rating drooped (from double digits his first two seasons to 6.8), his role changed and there were nights when Lopez either didn’t look good or finished games on the bench.
That’s been the case in Games 2 and 3 of the series vs. Miami, but for a happier reason: Lopez’s services haven’t been needed in the Bucks’ 34 and 29-point blowout victories. In Game 1, though, he was on the floor for the final 13:11 of the fourth quarter and overtime as Milwaukee eked out a 109-107 victory. He scored three of the Bucks’ 10 points while helping to hold the Heat’s front line scoreless (0-for-5) in OT.
That’s how it has gone since, only with less urgency. Lopez’s work defensively, along with his teammates, is reflected in his 89.4 rating. He has made nights long for Miami’s Bam Adebayo, who is shooting 40% after his 60% performance in ousting the Bucks from the Orlando bubble in September.
Meanwhile, Lopez is averaging 12.7 points and 6.3 rebounds on 50% shooting without flaunting the long ball. His work has been more traditional. In a first-quarter sequence Thursday, Lopez swatted Duncan Robinson’s layup attempt off the glass, then went into a post-up for a jumper over Jimmy Butler. Next quarter, he rim-ran on a Bucks’ break, finished with a reverse layup and earned a 3-point play.