The Milwaukee Bucks and coach Mike Budenholzer had struggled to defend Kawhi Leonard through the first three quarters of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Leonard had poured in 29 points and–along with Kyle Lowry–had kept the Raptors in the lead.
But when it mattered the most, the Bucks put the clamps on Leonard, holding him to just three field goal attempts (he missed all three) and just two points in the fourth quarter as Milwaukee outscored the Raptors 32-17 in the final period to secure the win.
Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer told Eric Nehm of The Athletic that his team’s focus on shutting Leonard down was as mental as it was physical:
“We talked about just the individual pride it takes with whoever has that assignment,” Budenholzer said of covering Leonard. “For the majority of the night, it was Khris and Malcolm. To be able to kind of tag-team him, and then in the fourth quarter hopefully between him seeing those two different guys all night and the activity around those two guys, we’ll take that fourth quarter.”
Just as they did during the regular season, the Bucks are leading all playoff teams in defensive rating, according to NBA.com. So it should come as no surprise that they found a way to shut Leonard out of the game in the fourth, particularly considering the struggles of Leonard’s teammates.
While Leonard and Lowry combined to shoot 20 of 41 from the field, the rest of the team combined to go just 14 of 51. Milwaukee’s strategy in limiting Leonard’s attempts will likely carry over into Game 2, though that may also be easier said than done.