Giannis Antetokounmpo Against the Wall

MILWAUKEE – No NBA player took more shots in the restricted area than Giannis Antetokounmpo during the regular season. With 663 attempts, he took 48 more shots there than the man second on the list, LeBron James.

Getting to the rim and shooting a high percentage at the rim (68.8 percent) is the major reason Antetokounmpo is such a devastating offensive player. Although Antetokounmpo lives at the rim, he does so without the benefit of a consistent jump shot, which means his percentage in that area isn’t quite as high as elite rim finishers like James (76.1 percent), or league leader Kevin Durant (78.2 percent).

In Game 1, the Raptors seemed to forget the scouting report. Antetokounmpo saw few help defenders on his drives to the rim and finished a number of unabated dunks. In Game 2, Toronto was going to do everything to keep him from the rim. A tactician like Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy would have said the Raptors “made a (expletive) wall” every time Antetokounmpo drove to the basket.

“More bodies in the paint,” Antetokounmpo said of the Raptors coverage. “In the first game, they allowed me to get in the paint a lot. In the second game, they did not allow me to go in the paint. Whenever I drove the ball into the paint, everybody was sucking into the paint.”

“It was more physical, but at the end of the day, I’m a basketball player. I have to do the right thing. Make the right plays. Find my teammates.”

A quick look at Antetokounmpo’s shot profiles from Games 1 and 2 show a stark contrast in the Raptors’ defense.

The change in Antetokounmpo’s shot profile makes quite a bit more sense when you realize that he was often looking at three or more defenders each time he drove to the hoop.

The strongest individual deterrent was Raptors center Serge Ibaka. Acquired by the Raptors mid-season for his rim-protection abilities, Ibaka seemed to stonewall Antetokounmpo every time the Bucks star went to the basket. Bucks coach Jason Kidd certainly took notice of the big man’s impact on the defensive end.

“Just locating [Ibaka] would be the start,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “I thought he had a great game for them, both offensively and defensively. We just have to locate him. When we're in the paint, understand he's going to be around to try to block shots.”

Antetokounmpo came out on top just twice in seven meetings at the rim with Ibaka. He scored once when Ibaka fouled him on a third quarter pick-and-roll from Dellavedova. The other triumph came late in the game on an alley-oop finger roll also from Dellavedova.

One of Antetokounmpo’s misses was a tip to keep the ball alive while Ibaka was around. Antetokounmpo eventually grabbed the rebound and attempted to slam it home, but then something weird happened. For the first time in recent memory, Antetokounmpo did not get it up over the rim and missed the dunk.

There were two successful contests in which Ibaka left his initial assignment to help on Antetokounmpo and affected his shot – one on a spin move against DeMarre Carroll and again on a semi-transition opportunity in the third quarter.

And finally, there was Ibaka’s block on Antetokounmpo in the third quarter. As the Bucks’ young star drove down the right lane line and extended the ball in his right hand to attempt a shot off glass, Ibaka rejected the shot and sent it flying out of bounds.

“He's going to block some shots, but also you can't stop going to the paint and to the rim,” Kidd said. “Understand that if he is there, there could be someone else open, so try to make a play for a teammate.”

And Kidd is not lying. Through the first two games of the playoffs, no team has surrendered more wide-open threes than the Raptors. The Bucks attempted 27 threes with the closest defender six or more feet away, NBA.com’s qualification for wide-open.

Under Kidd though, the Bucks have never been a team to bomb away from deep. This season, they were 24th in the league in three-point attempts per game, up from a last place finish last season. Despite not shooting many threes, the Bucks were 10th in three-point percentage this season, so there is a clear opportunity for them to take advantage of the Raptors.

The balance Antetokounmpo strikes will be important in the rest of the series. The obvious danger for him is becoming too willing of a passer and failing to set the overwhelming, athletic tone that has become common in any game he plays.

Ibaka and a wall of Raptors will be ready and waiting for Antetokounmpo any time he drives to the basket, which means there is now one question facing Antetokounmpo every play now for the rest of the series:

When approaching a wall, is it best to go through it, over it, or around it?