Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged 33.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and 5 assists in four games vs. the Celtics this season. How should the Celtics try and defend the Greek Freak?
Mike DePrisco (CelticsBlog): I think their best chance of guarding Giannis is to do it by committee. Throw him a number of different looks, and defenders to keep him guessing and to keep him uncomfortable. The Celtics have done a great job this season with Al Horford giving him space to shoot, and then collapsing with help defense when Antetokounmpo drives to the basket. Boston could also send guys like Jaylen Brown and Semi Ojeleye his way to get in his air space and stay physical with him. He doesn’t have a great variety of moves off the dribble, so sticking to the plan Brad Stevens deploys and staying physical with him would be the keys for me.
Greg Cassoli (Celtics Wire): This is quite clearly the most vexing tactical question the Celtics will have to deal with in this series. What do you do with an unfathomably long, athletic blur of a human being who is nearly automatic by the hoop? The most logical approach is to turn Giannis into a shooter. Often times that’s more easily said than done. Boston should have its primary defender offer him a sizeable cushion and encourage its off-ball defenders to help clog driving lanes aggressively. That may mean leaving shooters open to a degree that runs counter the team’s defensive identity, but the Greek Freak is good enough to force the Celtics to adapt and the Bucks typically don’t play enough quality marksmen to really punish such a strategy.
Daniel Poarch (Celtics Hub): Al Horford has put in some great work on the Greek Freak this season, and I’d expect that to continue to be his primary assignment. We know the book on Giannis right now: he can’t knock down jumpers with consistency. Horford and the Celtics will heavily err on the side of letting Giannis take jumpers from the midrange and behind the arc, while doing their best to cut him off from the rim. One concern: the offense will need to take better care of the ball, as their recent turnover issues would create a lot of opportunities for Giannis’ devastating transition game.
Cory Prescott (CLNS Media): No matter how you slice it, Giannis will have an impact on this series. The key is to make him work and hope that his supporting cast (Parker, Bledsoe, Middleton) fails to capitalize on the good looks he creates. The Celtics actually have a variety of defenders they can try on him, which should help keep Boston fresh in this series.
Is there a particular matchup the Celtics should look to exploit in this series?
DePrisco: Milwaukee matches up pretty well with Boston individually in my eyes. The problem the Bucks run into is staying connected on the defensive end and giving up easy baskets once their opponent breaks down their initial setup. The Celtics could look to go big and bully the Bucks’ bigs down low, but if they focus on moving the ball diligently and stopping their transition opportunities, the Bucks will settle for bad shots and leave games open for the taking.
Cassoli: Boston needs to put Jabari Parker into as many actions as possible. He’s a limited defender, who is particularly prone to getting lost away from the ball. The Bucks have countered teams that try to pick on Parker by putting him on players that initiate sets. He’s a solid enough athlete and big enough body to be almost passable in one-on-one contexts. It likely won’t matter against the Celtics. Injuries have forced Boston to utilize an even more egalitarian, albeit less effective, offense than they ran at full strength. They should be able to make sure whoever Parker is guarding is keeping him occupied away off the ball, even if Milwaukee attempts to switch his assignment when they do.
Poarch: Jabari Parker has played quite well offensively since his return from last season’s ACL tear, but defensively, he’s still a sieve. The Celtics will be able to create a lot of favorable matchups against him when they’re on the attack. He doesn’t have the instincts to check a crafty frontcourt player like Horford, and he lacks great quickness to keep up with energetic wings like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. I like Parker, but his defense makes him a target, and I think we’ll see Brad Stevens look to exploit that when he’s on the floor.
Prescott: Jabari Parker’s lateral movement is non-existent, and he’s never been a plus-defender as it is. When Parker’s on the court, put him in uncomfortable positions. Additionally, when Milwaukee plays a traditional center (Henson, Zeller), get the ball to Greg Monroe. He’s playing against his former team and given Boston’s scoring droughts since Kyrie Irving went down, Monroe’s post game can be used as a solid way to generate good looks.
Given the MASH unit Brad Stevens has to work with, what should his rotation look like against Milwaukee?
DePrisco: He’s had to change it on what seems like a countless amount of occasions, but Stevens will probably go with a starting lineup consisting of Rozier-Brown-Tatum-Horford-Baynes. Baynes will be key to protecting the paint against Antetokounmpo and Eric Bledsoe’s dribble penetration, so I think it’s important to keep him in the starting five. Outside of that you’re probably looking at Marcus Morris, Shane Larkin, Semi Ojeleye, and Greg Monroe as the main subs. Morris and Ojeleye will be key to keeping Boston’s versatility on both ends, while Larkin will be a key contributor as Rozier’s backup. Monroe might not play consistent minutes, but he will have to come in and score for certain stretches if Boston’s youth can’t seem to manufacture points.
Cassoli: I have no idea, but I bet it changes throughout the course of the series. Stevens isn’t one to shy away from what works (think Gerald Green starting games in last year’s playoffs). We’ll most definitely get heavy doses of the regulars: Rozier, Brown, Tatum, Horford, Baynes, and Morris. Who else plays will likely come down to who performs best. I’d expect Shane Larkin will emerge as a reliable option. I’m a little less confident in Greg Monroe. He really struggles to move his feet, and the Bucks have enough mobile bigs to make his life a living hell on the defensive end of the court. Whether or not they actually utilize them is another question entirely. Outside of those eight players, it’s hard to see anyone get really serious burn. Semi Ojeleye will likely get a chance or two to function as a “Giannis stopper” or a super small-ball center, and Guerschon Yabusele may land a few minutes if Monroe proves a bit too immobile.
Poarch: Have you seen that GIF from Community where Donald Glover walks into the room to find everything on fire? Something like that. In all seriousness, though, I think Tuesday’s tilt against the Wizards served as a preview for what we’ll see against the Bucks. Stevens deployed a nine-man rotation for most of the night, with Nader, Allen, Bird, and Gibson not seeing the court until the game was out of reach. I would bet that shortened rotation is what we’ll see until Marcus Smart returns.
Prescott: Play everyone. In all seriousness, Brad Stevens will monitor this series with magnificent focus. Rozier, Brown, Tatum, Horford, Baynes will continue to start, while Morris will be a super-sub and likely play starter-like minutes. Quite honestly, the Celtics depth (even with all of these injuries) gives them an advantage against a thin Bucks squad. Expect the bench to be used heavily and in interesting ways.
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DePrisco: I think the Celtics win this series in six games. While the Bucks have plenty of talent to make a depleted Celtics team vulnerable, they have never demonstrated any form of consistency this season. I feel that the advantage Stevens gives his team will make it difficult for the Bucks to figure out how to score outside of their incredibly simple offensive sets. The Celtics will need Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to score a lot, so that is a potential concern, but they’ve proved all season long that they’re ready to handle the pressure that comes with being the featured players on a contender.
Cassoli: Much like the entirety of the Celtics’ postseason, almost any possible outcome here seems feasible. I really don’t believe in the Bucks’ from a structural/strategic perspective, but having Giannis really matters, and the Celtics slew of injuries does too. I don’t feel comfortable predicting much beyond this series not being a sweep, but for the sake of the question I’ll say Boston in seven, primarily out of respect for the Greek Freak.
Poarch: Celtics in 6. The Bucks have a lot of interesting pieces, but they’ve consistently seemed to be less than the sum of their parts this season. Giannis is a superstar and you always have to be hesitant about facing that caliber of player, but he’s still young and Stevens has an established gameplan for him. Considering how shorthanded the Celtics are, it’s probably going to be a grueling series, but they still have a lot of talent and a significant edge in coaching. I think this is the most favorable of the potential first-round matchups we could have seen, and the Celtics should be able to advance.
Prescott: Celtics in 6. I think the coaching mismatch between Stevens and Joe Prunty is enough to swing this series. Plus, given the Bucks’ lack of discipline and consistency, the Celtics will win ugly and persevere to Round 2.