Bucks’ Eric Bledsoe went beyond coach’s plan in guarding James Harden
The Milwaukee Bucks might have exposed James Harden’s true weakness on national TV, completely blocking out the left side in front of him — a strategy that clearly bothered him in the second half and soon netted the Bucks the lead. Point guard Eric Bledsoe, who guarded Harden for most of the game, despite giving up four inches, actually exaggerated Mike Budenholzer’s plan to shade him to the left, as he completely barricaded the left side, giving him no option but to drive right into a sea of defenders.
“That was a totally different scheme than actually coach drew up,” said teammate Malcolm Brogdon, according to Matt Velasquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We wanted to shade him to his right, but Bled sort of created that way of guarding him from the beginning of the game as we all followed.”
Bledsoe’s initiative was a combination of getting the green light to take his own liberties defending players and all-around frustration with the amount of left-side step-backs Harden unleashed in the first half.
“There were a couple times in film this season Bud was telling everybody schemes and he basically just told me, ‘Bled, you do what you do,'” said Bledsoe. “I just try to play to people’s tendencies. I know he likes the step-back a lot going both ways. My main thing was just to get him off the three-point line, force him to shoot twos. It wasn’t even trying to stay in front of him, it was almost like, ‘You can have the lane.’ We did a great job on the perimeter, but I think you can credit Brook (Lopez). Brook did a hell of a job. He’s been doing a hell of a job all season, having our backs, making it tough on them. It wasn’t just the guards out there, it was him, too.”
Harden looked almost shellshocked at the vast space in front of him, but didn’t know how to score or create from there. The MVP hopeful looked irritated heading to the locker room after the loss, as it’s likely a strategy he will now game plan for in case it is deployed by others in the future.