Can the Boston Celtics Unlock These Secrets to Slowing Giannis?
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BOSTON—The Milwaukee Bucks’ Game 1 win over the Boston Celtics did more than just assert the Bucks’ control of the series.
It was a wake-up call for the NBA’s most consistently elite team since Jan. 1, with a simple message: the championship still runs through the team with the most dominant player in the world.
Dealing with Kevin Durant in round 1 now feels like a trial run for playing against Giannis Antetokounmpo, who presents a different challenge for the Celtics.
Antetokounmpo is a wrecking ball when driving towards the rim, capable of finishing with and through contact. Boston has talked about putting up a defensive wall to limit his aggressive drives, but in Game 1, those walls were more like sliding doors.
Still, there were a few silver linings for Boston to try and build on in its hopes of limiting Antetokounmpo’s impact going forward.
Get Bigs Switching onto Giannis
One of the keys to Boston’s defense being so successful this season was its ability to switch everything. While the idea of Al Horford or Robert Williams III defending Antetokounmpo for an entire game isn’t ideal, both are good enough defenders to hold their own for stretches.
Antetokounmpo had a 24-point, 13-rebound, 12-assist triple-double, and didn’t have much trouble against Grant Williams and Boston’s other wings and guards. But Boston’s center duo did their jobs in making Antetokounmpo work for his points.
Horford spent more time guarding Antetokounmpo (5:11 of game time) than any other Celtics player. Antetokounmpo shot just 2-for-10 from the field with one assist and three turnovers in that span.
Williams was also excellent against the two-time league MVP, limiting Antetokounmpo to three assists and one turnover while forcing a miss in each of his three shot attempts.
But even when you defend him well, Antetokounmpo still has the ability to score, like the alley-oop he threw off the backboard to himself after being defended well by Grant Williams.
Nonetheless, Horford and Williams are capable enough to prevent Antetokounmpo from consistently imposing his will in the paint.
Force Giannis Off the Stars
In Game 1, Antetokounmpo defended nine different players who combined to shoot 5-for-15 when he was the primary defender.
Antetokounmpo was especially impactful against Boston’s top two scorers, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Using his length, athleticism and uncanny instincts, Antetokounmpo gave both Tatum and Brown fits inside the paint as well as on the perimeter.
Boston’s 1-2 punch of Tatum and Brown went a combined 2-for-10 shooting from the field when Antetokounmpo was the primary defender. Going into Game 2, getting Tatum and Brown to be defended by someone other than Antetokounmpo has to be a priority. Both should look to target the likes of Grayson Allen or Wes Matthews, or get Brook Lopez out on the perimeter in space.
If Antetokounmpo continues to keep Tatum and Brown in check, the Celtics will have to generate points elsewhere. The most likely suspects? Marcus Smart, Horford, Grant Williams and Payton Pritchard, all of whom struggled to make shots in Game 1.
In any case, minimizing Antetokounmpo’s impact must be a central focus for Boston as they look to shore up their play amid what should be some noticeable adjustments on Boston’s part from Game 1 to Game 2.
None of its changes may ultimately end up making a difference, but should Boston continue its formula from Game 1, then Tatum and Co. are destined to find themselves on vacation one month earlier than they’d like.
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