Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo’s defense reigns supreme

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton (Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports)
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton (Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports) /

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the defensive anchor for a Milwaukee Bucks team that has a championship on their mind. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo showed why he is the “Greek Freak” in Game 4. Without another dominant 40-plus scoring game, as he had in Games 2 and 3, Giannis proved why he is such a devastating two-way force.

During crunch time, Giannis made a legendary block on a lob attempt to Deandre Ayton and swiped the ball away from Chris Paul when he tried a crossover which leads to a fast break and a Khris Middleton layup to put the Milwaukee Bucks up 103-99.

It seems like the other players don’t realize how long and mobile Giannis is because it’s abnormal and freaky. The plays that would normally result in points for the Suns against most other teams are unsuccessful against the Greek Freak.

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On that crucial block, Giannis stopped Booker’s drive and simultaneously recovered in time to block Ayton at the rim which has to be the most amazing defensive play in NBA Finals history. Somehow, Giannis is quick enough to steal the ball away from Paul and strong enough to thwart a flying Ayton which shows his defensive versatility and will to win.

Earlier in the fourth quarter, Giannis also stole an inbounds pass and made the court look small as he leaped to the basket for a monstrous dunk. Giannis finished the game with 26 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists, three steals, and two blocks.

While the game featured a scoring duel between Khris Middleton (40 points) and Devin Booker, (42 points) the defense of the Bucks is really what allowed them to come back, outscoring the Suns 33-21 in the fourth quarter to win 109-103.

The closing offense of the Bucks which featured a pick-and-roll between Middleton and Giannis worked to perfection. Middleton was able to dribble into some rhythm jumpers after going around the pick because the defense shifted towards Giannis. Middleton has a smooth offensive game and can create his own shot.

Because of Middleton’s calm demeanor he doesn’t get rattled and this allows him to be an effective closer for the Bucks down the stretch of close games. Middleton’s confidence to take and make big shots were once again on display and crucial to the Bucks tying the series.

Even though Jrue Holiday had an off game, shooting only 4-20 from the field his defense on Chris Paul was stellar holding the “Point God” to 10 points, seven assists, and five turnovers. Deandre Ayton had six points, five assists, and 17 rebounds while Cameron Johnson stepped up to score 10 points off the bench.

Johnson continues to show promise with the ability to move off the ball and get into wide open spaces and knock down shots with a picture-perfect release. The Suns stated that they believed that Cameron Johnson was the best shooter in the 2019 NBA Draft after taking him 11th overall and that certainly looks to be the case. Tyler Herro and Cam Reddish are also proving to be knockdown shooters from that draft class.

The Milwaukee Bucks have a roster built on defense

This Bucks roster is built on defense with most of their rotational players being plus defenders. The Suns’ role players like Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, Cameron Payne, and Torrey Craig may be a more talented offensive group than the Bucks’ role players in P.J. Tucker, Bobby Portis, Jeff Teague, and Pat Connaughton, but defensively the Bucks have proven to be a more cohesive unit.

Bryn Forbes, who played great in the Bucks’ First Round series against the Miami Heat was a DNP in Game 4 of the NBA Finals after only getting a total of 22 minutes in the first three games. This is likely because he is a liability defensively and the Bucks are locked in on bothering the Suns and getting them out of rhythm offensively as both Giannis and Holiday put on a defensive masterclass to win a close Game 4.

The Suns are without Dario Saric due to a torn ACL suffered in Game 1. The Bucks have made most of this spectacular postseason run without their starting shooting guard, Donte DiVincenzo, who averaged 10.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game during the regular season and suffered a torn ligament in his left ankle during Game 3 of the Bucks’ sweep of the Miami Heat in the first round.

Giannis is very fortunate to not miss these NBA Finals after hyperextending his left knee in Game 4 of the series against the Atlanta Hawks. This shows Giannis is a freak physically because most players couldn’t have recovered so quickly from such a scary-looking injury.

While Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz won the Defensive Player of the Year Award, Giannis showed why he is the best and most versatile defender in the game with this epic Finals performance. However, Gobert got exposed defensively in the Clippers series, especially when the Clippers went small and came roaring back from a 22-point halftime deficit to win Game 6 and end their season.

Gobert looked out of place trying to guard on the perimeter resulting in wide-open 3’s for the Clippers which spurred on their amazing comeback. The Utah Jazz head coach, Quinn Snyder did not make the adjustment of taking Gobert off the floor to match the Clippers’ small-ball lineup and it cost them their season. Unlike Gobert, Giannis would never be exposed like that defensively because of his mobility and length.

Bucks coach, Mike Budenholzer elected to close the game with Pat Connaughton over starting center Brook Lopez, who is only playing 22.75 minutes per game in the NBA Finals because of his inability to switch effectively defensively.

Chris Paul has cooked Lopez a few times during this series when he guards him out on the perimeter making him hard to play for extended minutes. Having switchable defenders that can guard multiple areas of the court has become increasingly important in today’s pace and space offensive attack and the closing lineup of Giannis, Tucker, Middleton, Holiday, and Connaughton is the epitome of having versatile defenders.

Next. 2021 NBA Draft: What is Cade Cunningham’s ceiling?. dark

As the old saying goes “defense wins championships” and the Bucks certainly fit that moniker.