Welcome to “One Play!” Throughout the 2021-22 NBA season, our TSN staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal their bigger meaning.
Today, Giannis Antetokounmpo takes the spotlight.
Context: Antetokounmpo was a different player in Milwaukee’s Game 3 win over Boston.
The two-time MVP carved the Celtics up with his passing (12 assists) in Game 1, but it took him 25 shots to score 24 points. The Celtics were able to limit him as a scorer once again in Game 2, this time holding him to 28 points on 11-for-27 shooting from the field.
As for Game 3, Antetokounmpo exploded for 42 points on 16-for-30 shooting from the field, leading the Bucks to victory to take a 2-1 series lead.
Antetokounmpo was in control from start to finish — he even hit a go-ahead bucket late in the fourth quarter that set the Bucks up for the win — but there was one particular thing he did in Game 3 that helped him get going against the best defensive team in the league.
You know what that means — to the film room!
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Breakdown: Pat Connaughton rebounds a missed shot from Jayson Tatum and immediately gives the ball to Jrue Holiday, who takes a couple of dribbles up the court before advancing it to Antetokounmpo.
Jaylen Brown is in position to pick up Antetokounmpo but he motions to Grant Williams to do so instead.
Williams has been a defensive menace in these playoffs. According to NBA.com, the Celtics’ big man is holding opponents to — wait for it — 0.31 points per isolation possession in the playoffs, ranking him in the 97th percentile. Not interested in taking him one-on-one, Antetokounmpo waits patiently for Connaughton to set him a screen.
The result? Brown finds himself matched up with Antetokounmpo after all.
Having done his job, Connaughton quickly sprints to the right corner to space the floor. Wesley Matthews is parked in the corner opposite to Connaughton while Brook Lopez hangs out in the dunker spot and Holiday makes his way to the right wing.
That leaves Antetokounmpo with a whole lot of room to operate at the top of the perimeter, even with Williams creeping over.
Antetokounmpo sizes Brown up before driving to his left. Brown meets him at the elbow, but Antetokounmpo spins around him and rises up for a floater at the dotted line.
Standing five inches shorter, there’s not much Brown can do to disrupt Antetokounmpo’s shot.
To be fair, there aren’t many players who can do much of anything when Antetokounmpo gets this close to the basket:
Why it matters: Here’s the matchup data from Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals:
|Defender||Game 1||Game 2|
|Robert Williams III||0-3||4-5|
Anything in particular stand out? It should.
Through two games, Antetokounmpo had success against the likes of Brown and Tatum, but he didn’t have many opportunities to attack them. For the most part, Al Horford, Grant Williams and Robert Williams III have been the primary defenders on Antetokounmpo in this series.
Horford and Grant Williams have proven themselves to be two of the best Giannis defenders in the league today, and Robert Williams III was a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate on the strength of his rim protection. Nobody can stop Antetokounmpo one-on-one anymore, but the three of them at least have the size needed to have any prayer of staying in front of him and contesting his shots around the basket.
Knowing that, Antetokounmpo did his best LeBron James impression by mismatch hunting more in Game 3, putting the matchup he wanted in pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll to force a switch.
Especially down the stretch, the Celtics didn’t do much to avoid those switches.
The Celtics don’t have many — if any — defensive holes on their roster, but again, Horford, Grant Williams and Robert Williams III are the only players who have the size and length to hang with him. That makes going at the likes of Brown, Tatum, Derrick White and Daniel Theis a lot more appetizing.
It was only one game, but Antetokounmpo may have found a way to break through Boston’s impenetrable defense.