MILWAUKEE – No matter how detailed you may want to get in dissecting how to beat the Milwaukee Bucks, it always comes back to Giannis Antetokounmpo.
A 7-foot playmaker who covers ground like a world class long jumper with pogo stick-like leaping ability, Antetokounmpo is a living, breathing mismatch the moment he steps on to the floor.
But he is human, something the Boston Celtics reminded us of in their 92-87 Game 5 win in which Antetokounmpo came one assist shy of a triple-double but only took 10 shots from the field.
“I had open shots but they weren’t my shots,” Antetokounmpo said after the Game 5 loss. “My teammates did a great job finding me … come Game 6 I gotta be more aggressive, make more plays.”
Boston’s Semi Ojeleye was inserted into the starting lineup for Game 5 and will likely stay there for tonight’s close-out game.
His role is to give Antetokounmpo a different look defensively in addition to a more versatile defender who matches up better on pick-and-roll switches than Aron Baynes has in this series.
In Game 5, mission accomplished.
Ojeleye discussed the challenges one faces when tasked with defending Antetokounmpo.
“His aggressive mindset,” Ojeleye said. “Every play, every possession, transition, he’s always looking to attack. You have to be aware of that at all times and just be ready. If he sees you relaxed, he’s going to try and take advantage of that.”
And while Ojeleye will be the first to admit that defending Antetokounmpo is a team effort and not the task of any one individual, it’s clear that he’s as good a Celtic as there is when it comes to defending Antetokounmpo.
“Giannis is a really hard guy to guard,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Semi has great lateral athleticism and obviously as strong as anybody in the league when he gets hit on a drive, and Giannis brings as much force on the drive as anybody in the league. He’s a hard guy to guard and he’s trying to make it as difficult as possible.”
According to NBA.com, Ojeleye has defended Antetokounmpo for 73 possessions, 40 of which came in Game 5.
Antetokounmpo has scored 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting against Ojeleye.
And in Game 5, Antetokounmpo scored seven points on 3-for-5 shooting when defended by Ojeleye.
Upon first glance, those numbers aren’t all that impressive.
But a slightly deeper dive reveals that Ojeleye defended Antetokounmpo on 40 possessions.
That means Antetokounmpo took a shot with Ojeleye defending, once every eight possessions the two were on the floor at the same time.
As Ojeleye mentioned, defending Antetokounmpo is not a one-man job.
It is a team effort, but it’s clear thus far that Boston’s best shot at minimizing Antetokounmpo’s impact begins with Ojeleye as the team’s primary defender.
“It’s big-time what Semi can do,” said Boston’s Marcus Morris. “We all know he can defend well. He’s finally getting a chance on one of the biggest levels and he’s coming through.”