Defending Giannis Antetokounmpo has become the NBA’s version of Game Of Thrones, except the wall can be red, green, white, blue, or even pink. Regardless of which team he faces, Giannis is constantly facing a sea of bodies, all lined up hoping to slow him down, often to little effect.
On Christmas day, the boston celtics found a way to contain the milwaukee dollars star, limiting his attempts at the rim and forcing him to settle for mid-range jump shots throughout the contest. In fact, in 35 minutes of playing time, Giannis only took 3 shots inside the restricted area, converting two of them.
Of course, Giannis is at his best on the open floor, and given how well the Celtics shot the ball, attacked the rim and battled for second-chance points, he had to settle for half-court offensive actions, which limited its ability to go downhill a bit.
One of Boston’s biggest adjustments to defending Giannis at half court Sunday was that instead of putting three men on a straight wall, they relied on helping defense, tweaking the wings and cleverly timed digs or traps to press the ball By limiting the number of lengths committed to slowing down Giannis, the Celtics ensured that they couldn’t get caught by the ball swinging to the weak side or found an uncontrolled cutter running down the lane.
If we look at this first-quarter possession, we can get a good idea of how Boston looked to pressure Giannis when he got the rock at half court. From the moment the tackle pass is made, Derrick White “digs deep” to speed up Giannis’ decision-making process while also limiting his ability to spin and disappear due to White’s body position relative to Giannis’s hips.
Giannis has no choice but to kick the rock to the perimeter, where White then recovers from his dig to contest the shot, forcing Grayson Allen to attack from the dribble before returning the rock to Giannis for a 3-pointer. Every team would be happy with Giannis shooting perimeter shots all night.
This is another example of how Boston used shoving to speed up Giannis and force him into jump shots instead of allowing him to attack from the dribble or work with his back to the basket as a low post facilitator.
As Jayson Tatum chases Joe Ingles on his diagonal cut from the weakside corner to the strongside, Tatum lets his man put momentary pressure on Giannis’s hand to dribble, forcing the cross that leads to a short midrange jumper. . Okay, the shot goes in, but again, every time you force Giannis to throw pull-ups, your defensive game plan is having its intended effect.
Another way Boston sought to limit Giannis was by removing his route to the rim when he was operating without the ball, especially after a shot had gone up, thus limiting his ability to get back buckets or start secondary chances for his teammates. .
Watching Giannis work his way into the paint as the shot rises, it’s clear he’s looking to use his explosiveness to get to the rim and deliver a thunderous throwback. However, Marcus Smart, who has had a huge impact on defense in recent games (what else is new), sees Giannis’ intentions and gets under him early, limiting his ability to get into the restricted area and at the same time he ensures that if he jumps, he will. It’s probably a foul from behind.
Smart has always been good at this, using his body to get under a taller player’s hips and impacting his range of motion and jumping ability, while also being a pain in the ass due to his physique and strength.
Beyond the X’s and O’s of how Boston sought to limit Giannis, they also went with multiple defenders, from Al Horford to Grant Williams and even Blake Griffin, with a sprinkling of Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick White. for good measure.
Frankly, when it comes to stopping Giannis, it takes a town. As it happens, the people of Boston are more talented than most.
“We’re lucky to have some great matchups for him, you know, between Al, Grant, Blake, Malcolm, Smart, our whole team really. We’re lucky to have the ability to throw him some different guys, and I thought we were just disciplined in our execution,” Joe Mazzulla said.
However, as Milwaukee fans would be quick to tell you, the Celtics limited Giannis without the Bucks’ primary floor spacer Khris Middleton on the floor. So maybe once Middleton returns to the rotation, Giannis could have a few extra lanes to attack. But really, by having your wings pinch and multiple defenders willing to dig/trick the ball, you are testing Giannis’ confidence in handling him and forcing him to make quicker decisions.
Plus, you put the onus on the rest of Milwaukee’s roster to beat you, which is always possible but unlikely, given Boston’s defensive depth and versatility both in its starting unit and on the bench.
After a shaky start to the season, the Celtics defense now ranks seventh in the NBA, and given how good it has looked in its last two outings, we could soon see it climb into the top 5 or even top 3. After Still, this is essentially the same team that dominated the defensive ratings last season, and judging by what they showed against Milwaukee on Sunday, they’re starting to rediscover that identity, much to Giannis’ frustration.