The Milwaukee Bucks kick off preseason play against the Chicago Bulls at noon on Sunday. It will be the first time that new head coach Adrian Griffin will lead a team that is not made up of summer league players. It could also be the first time that he coaches Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard in game action.
That is, of course, if Giannis and Lillard even play. According to reports, the Bucks held a two-hour practice that culminated in an intense five-on-five scrimmage. The good news is that, for the first time in months, Khris Middleton was able to participate. The bad news is that, due to physical intensity of the practice, Coach Griffin may choose to rest some of the more noteworthy players on the team.
That physical intensity is something that many expected would come with Griffin as the team’s head coach. And, according to Giannis, it is something that Milwaukee was missing under Mike Budenholzer.
The Milwaukee Bucks Lacked Intensity Under Mike Budenholzer
When Giannis and the Bucks won the 2021 NBA Finals, they did so because the team had traded for PJ Tucker at the trade deadline. Not only did Tucker provide the team with a tough defender, he also brought an edge to Milwaukee that the team severely needed.
When looking back on that memorable championship run, some of the most memorable moments involved Tucker getting into the faces of opposing players. The Bucks were certainly more intense with him on the team, and it was not just physically, it was mentally too.
The physical toughness that Tucker inspired the rest of the team to have is what gave them the moxie to fight and claw their way back against the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals and again in the NBA Finals.
It is little wonder that Milwaukee has not made it back to the Finals since Tucker left. They lost their edge with his departure. Players like him are so rare, so it is up to the head coach to inspire that kind of toughness in their teams. Mike Budenholzer couldn’t or wouldn’t do it.
But it sounds like Adrian Griffin will.
Giannis Antetokounmpo Explains How the Milwaukee Bucks Will Be Different Under Adrian Griffin
This past weekend, Coach Griffin and other Bucks players made headlines with their discussions about playing intense and physical defense. While they no longer have Jrue Holiday, one of the best defensive players in the NBA, there is an expectation that they will play better team defense this year.
That means that Giannis, the 2019-20 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, will no longer be held back on the defensive side like he was last year.
He explained to the media:
“It’s been awhile since I’ve got low, and I’m like ‘let me guard somebody’….so yeah I love coach Griffin” pic.twitter.com/0nabKQQbP4
— JWills (@itsjwills) October 7, 2023
“Listen, we’ve been one of the best defensive teams in the league the last five years, so it’s not like we’ve got to change a lot of things. Like, I feel like you just got to sharpen the tool, add edge to the team.
“Give guys freedom to feel like they can pressure the ball, that they can get into somebody’s, uh, when they start to get into their bag, you can get into somebody’s face. Appropriately. Not get a tech and be stupid.
“But you can be tough. And I feel like that was missing. This year, I am so happy with what I have seen so far, the way I’m approaching the game.
“It’s been a while since I got low and I’m like ‘let me guard somebody, let me navigate screens, let me contest shots.’
“So yeah, I love Coach Griffin. His ideas and philosophy, and I think he has a great coaching staff behind him that allows him to be great.”
When Milwaukee was upset in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs last season, Heat star Jimmy Butler tore the Bucks’ defense to pieces. Giannis reportedly wanted to guard Butler to try and slow him down, but neither Holiday nor Budenholzer wanted to make that switch.
Things will be different under Griffin, and if he really does allow his players to bring that fire, Milwaukee will have a very special season.