Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo has received the final two NBA MVP awards, and positive appeared worthy of one other in dominating the Nets this common season.
Priority No. 1 for the Nets is maintaining him from doing it once more within the postseason, beginning Saturday with Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals (7:30 p.m., TNT). It would possibly even be precedence No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 as properly.
“It’s cool to compete against the best on this stage at this point of the season,” Kevin Durant mentioned. “When you’re out there with the best players in the world — MVPs and Defensive Players of the Year — it just makes it even better.”
Durant will spend time on Antetokounmpo, however how a lot is the massive name coach Steve Nash should make. Scouts that spoke with The Post mentioned it’s a five-man job.
“Plain and simple is to keep him out of the paint and limit his transition points,” ex-76ers scout Michael VandeGarde advised The Post. “That’s workforce protection and elite effort getting again.
“People talk about creating a wall defense to stop his ability to drive to the basket, and that’s team defense for the most part as well … and much easier to game plan for in the playoffs. That’s why Giannis hasn’t been the same player in the last three playoffs versus the regular season.”
In the previous two seasons, in addition to in 2021, Antetokounmpo’s participant effectivity ranking has dropped from the common season to the postseason. Antetokounmpo averaged 39.7 factors, 10.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists towards the Nets within the common season, and the Bucks received the season collection 2-1. The Nets are certain and decided to not lose this collection the identical approach.
“Just playing hard,” Durant mentioned of the important thing to defending Antetokounmpo. “Guarding your yard, guarding who’s in front of you, keeping [in front of him]. It’s easier said than done, but that’s the foundation of it is playing hard. He’s going to play hard and we just got to match it.”
Added Blake Griffin: “With any great player, it’s something you do by committee. It’s not going to be a single person just stopping him. There’s a reason he’s back-to-back MVPs and has had the success he’s had. So yeah, we have some things in place. But it’s gonna be a team effort. And we’ll be ready for it.”
Griffin is the almost definitely to start out at heart and get first crack at Antetokounmpo. Nic Claxton is the primary wholesome massive off the bench, with Jeff Green nonetheless harm and DeAndre Jordan out of the rotation.
Durant might have hassle with Antetokounmpo’s power if he’s left on him too lengthy, however his 7-foot-4 wingspan will likely be important.
“When me and KD are both on the court at the same time, our length and the way we can affect the game in that way,” Claxton mentioned.
“KD can guard him and be somewhat successful if he wants to be,” mentioned VandeGarde, who runs his personal scouting service. “Not many gamers have KD’s size and quickness. … That is precisely what you’d search for in somebody guarding him.
Jordan began all three regular-season video games towards Antetokounmpo, dealing with him on 72.4 partial possessions, based on NBA knowledge. The Greek Freak poured in 50 factors whereas being guarded by Jordan within the three video games, and the Bucks scored 94. Jordan has performed simply 5 minutes for the reason that final recreation towards the Bucks on May 4.
Antetokounmpo hit 5-of-12 from 3-point vary with the motionless Jordan sitting in drop protection. Instead of simply being the pick-and-roll ball-handler, Antetokounmpo additionally dominated rolling because the display screen man, making him harder to take care of.
Griffin acquitted himself pretty properly, holding Antetokounmpo to 22 factors on 8-of-22 capturing, 3-of-9 from deep and 4 turnovers in 29.4 partial possessions.
“He shoots at a record high within 3 feet, so obviously that’s not ideal for us, but you don’t want to just give him 3s where he’s dribbling in and just be able to tee up a shot,” Griffin mentioned. “If he hits some tough 3s you’ve got to shake his hand. But we want to make every shot he takes tougher than an uncontested wide-open 3.”
He’s not unsuitable. Antekounmpo’s 78.8 capturing share on pictures inside 5 ft is the most effective of any participant with 500 makes an attempt within the historical past of the NBA Advanced Stats database.
Green will likely be out not less than for Game 1, and Claxton performed simply 5:02 of the three conferences with the Bucks, spending solely 25 seconds matched up towards Antetokounmpo.
“Just the speed, the strength he has getting downhill, he’s working on his shot, it’ll be a good challenge for us,” Claxton mentioned. “Just try to throw some different bodies at him and figure out some way to slow him down.”