Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer called the disparity in free throws during Game 1 of the NBA Finals “frustrating” on Wednesday. This became the latest in a series of his heated comments about the officiating during the series, dating back to Game 3 when he questioned the officiating crew’s “intelligence”, and Game 6 when he responded during a timeout that, “They’re not doing their jobs.”

The Bucks led all teams in three-pointers attempted this season, but their inability to convert at the line was a huge part of why they missed the playoffs. Milwaukee had the second-worst free throw shooting percentage in the NBA for the regular season. On Sunday, the Bucks shot 80% from the line, making 20 of 26 attempts. That’s a huge improvement on Sunday.

7:01 P.M. EASTERN TIME.

Tim Bontemps

PHOENIX – After the Suns converted 26 free throws in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer acknowledged that the difference at the line in Game 1 – a 118-105 win over Phoenix – upset Milwaukee.

Are you trying to lure me? Budenholzer responded with a smile when asked if the Suns had made 10 more free throws than his team in Game 1. No, I mean, that’s a big part of the game. They scored 25 points at the free throw line. We are a team that prides itself on its defense and its ability to defend well without fouls.

I can’t remember the last time a team hit 25 free throws in a game against the Bucks. Conversely, the way Giannis [Antetokounmpo] attacks, the way Chris [Middleton] attacks, the number of chances Chris has with the ball….. It’s frustrating, but that’s part of the sport. It’s part of the game.

We must defend ourselves better. We have to keep them from the free throw line and we have to be more aggressive, get to the free throw line and attack well.

Of the 16 games the Bucks have played in these playoffs, only one Milwaukee opponent has made 26 free throws: In the second game of the first round between Milwaukee and the Heat, Miami made 24 of 35 shots from the free throw line to beat the Bucks.

In the Bucks’ first game, however, that gap became even more tangible as both teams were very efficient at the line. Phoenix made a remarkable 25-of-26 shots from the free throw line, with Jay Crowder missing just one shot with 24.8 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

2 Connected

On the other hand, the Bucs have converted just 9 of 16. While Antetokounmpo went 7-for-12 from the free throw line, only two other players – Jrue Holiday (2-for-2) and Brook Lopez (0-for-2) – also made it to the line.

Middleton, meanwhile, made 26 shots but didn’t hit a single free throw.

It’s tough, you know, teams have been putting pressure on me lately, Middleton said after the first game. All you have to do is try to get past it. I can’t wait for the officials to bail me out. Just try to be strong with it. If they commit an offense, they commit an offense. But they haven’t done that lately, so I just need to play better, be stronger.

A similar announcement was made by Holiday on Wednesday. After struggling offensively in Game 1 – 4-of-14 from the field, four three-point attempts and several missed open shots – Holiday said he needs to be more aggressive, but that the Bucs also need to smartly find the right opportunities to do so.

Their defense is trying to take it away from us, Holiday said of the offense in the paint. Like I said, they have a very, very good paint job, but we have to be smart. Sell [contact] little by little.

But we have to go further into the painting. I felt like in every series we played, every game we won, we were the best and we scored in the paint, so we have to keep doing that.

On the other hand, the Bucks also know how to get Chris Paul and Devin Booker to make contact with defenders and get to the line – especially if they get Phoenix to the free throw line. According to Bucks guard Pat Connaughton, Milwaukee will need to focus on that in Game 2 in hopes of preventing Phoenix from revisiting the free throw line.

Yeah, it depends on the game, right? Connaughton talked about the balance between aggressiveness and discipline on defense against Milwaukee’s defenders. But I also think it’s not just about the physical impact, but also the mental attitude or knowing what you want to do. There were a few fouls for missed shots last night, which we should know their guys love to do.

There’s also the idea of knowing how physically ready you can be before the bonus and after the bonus, and understanding that, understanding when they’re in the scoring zone, understanding when we can make them uncomfortable, when we can be physical, and then just when we’re in the right position. Being physical doesn’t always mean you have to push them off their perch. Being physical means being somewhere before they get there, being in position to take over the attack, being in position to take over the vertical attack, being in position to make the ground look very small as they try to look for runs.

One thing will help the Bucs hit more free throws in Game 2: Antetokounmpo continues to feel better after returning from a hyperextended left knee in Game 1.

After going from questionable to doubtful and finally being placed in the starting lineup, Antitokounmpo scored 20 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in 35 minutes, a week after a horrific fall in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Atlanta.

More importantly for Milwaukee, Antetokounmpo came through the game unscathed and said Wednesday that he feels good after his injury and will be ready for Game 2.

It was positive and clear this morning, Budenholzer said. I think we’re going to shift some more, and I think we’ll get more feedback in the near future, but for now it’s going well.

When you see the movie, it’s just like any other. There are things he can do better, and things he has done well, just like our group. I think Giannis always gets better when he misses a few days or a few games, for whatever reason. Again, unlike many other players, he will get better with time.

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