It would be ridiculous to criticize most NBA players who scored 33 points and grabbed 14 rebounds as part of a playoff win, but Giannis Antetokounmpo is not most players.
The two-time NBA MVP was one of the main contributors in Milwaukee’s Game 3 victory over Brooklyn — the other being Khris Middleton, who totaled 35 points and 15 rebounds — which kept the Bucks from falling into a 3-0 hole. And yet, it feels as though Antetokounmpo can do even more moving forward in the series.
“At the end of the day, when you play a basketball game and you win the game, you enjoy [it]. But I think we can play better,” Antetokounmpo said. “We can play better. We can play faster. We can play more together.”
How can the Bucks truly unleash “The Greek Freak” against the Nets? Let’s take a closer look at what worked (and what didn’t) in Game 3.
Do: Attack quickly in half-court sets and transition
Example 1: Antetokounmpo was in attack mode right after the opening tip. He grabbed the ball off a couple of misses and didn’t allow Nets defenders to sprint ahead and build a wall in front of him.
Example 2: Later in the first quarter, Antetokounmpo faced a defense that was in much better position to stop him. He penetrated with such force, though, that it didn’t matter. Antetokounmpo had the option to finish himself or kick out to Brook Lopez for a wide-open 3-pointer with Landry Shamet sucked into the paint.
Example 3: On this play, the Nets got all five defenders back, but Antetokounmpo saw Blake Griffin backpedaling and drove right at his chest. When he’s that deep, it’s over.
Example 4: Here’s what happened when Antetokounmpo wasn’t decisive. He dribbled the air out of the ball for more than 10 seconds while his teammates stood and watched. Griffin tied him up for a jump ball, but Kevin Durant likely would have blocked the shot from behind had Antetokounmpo managed to release the ball.
Quotable: “I think, the first quarter, [Antetokounmpo] was in attack mode. I think the spacing, we were better,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We got 30 points, and then from there, it was a little bit of a slugfest. So Giannis has just got to keep finding his spots, can get to second actions, third actions. He’s just going to keep playing and making good decisions and playing for his team.”
Do: Run pick-and-roll with teammates
Example 1: Griffin was content to play way off Antetokounmpo and bait him into taking 3-pointers (more on that below). One way Milwaukee countered that strategy was by using Antetokounmpo as a screener. Jrue Holiday came off the pick with a head of steam, so Griffin had to cover for Irving, who was chasing Holiday over the top of the screen. Antetokounmpo rolled hard to the rim, and Griffin couldn’t step over quickly enough to draw the charge.
Example 2: The Bucks ran the Holiday-Antetokounmpo pick-and-roll in the same spot later in the first half, but this time Nets guard Mike James tagged Antetokounmpo to prevent an easy pass. Holiday adjusted by throwing a well-timed laser to P.J. Tucker. The shot didn’t fall, but the threat of a diving Antetokounmpo created exactly the kind of look Milwaukee wanted.
By the numbers: Antetokounmpo is posting 1.21 points per possession in the playoffs as the roll man, but he has only logged 14 such possessions, per NBA.com stats.
Do: Find cutting lanes
Example 1: The ball movement has been lacking for the Bucks throughout the series, but this was a great possession in which every player touched the ball. Milwaukee put Brooklyn into a help-and-recover situation, and Antetokounmpo saw a runway after his defender rotated over toward the ball.
Example 2: Once again, Antetokounmpo took advantage of a defender who helped on the ball and lost track of him. Antetokounmpo caught the ball at the dotted line, but his length and athleticism gave him an easy dunk.
By the numbers: Antetokounmpo is posting 1.30 points per possession in the playoffs as a cutter on 23 such possessions, per NBA.com stats. The Bucks are producing at the third-highest rate on cuts (1.38) among playoff teams behind only the Clippers (1.42) and Jazz (1.39),
Don’t: Isolate and shoot pull-up 3-pointers
Example 1: OK, here comes the frustrating part. Antetokounmpo went 1 of 8 on 3-pointers (12.5 percent) and 13 of 23 on 2-pointers (56.5 percent) in Game 3. Many of his deep attempts were just bad shots. Dribble up, no passes, 17 seconds on the shot clock. Nope.
Example 2: Dribble up, one step inside the arc, move back, 15 seconds on the shot clock. Stop it.
Example 3: Dribble up, two teammates just crossed half court, 17 seconds on the shot clock. Dude . . . come on.
Quotable: “They’re back. You’ve got to shoot it — not necessarily you’ve got to shoot it. You’ve got to make the best decision,” Antetokounmpo said. “At the time, if I feel like I can knock it down, I’m going to shoot it. If I feel like I got to get my teammates involved, I’ll get my teammates involved. At the end of the day, as I said, just make the best decision for that particular moment. As I said, my instinct told me that taking a three at that moment was the best decision, so that’s why I took eight threes.”
(The best decision is to eliminate those 3-pointers and do more of the other stuff.)
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