WASHINGTON -- There is really only so much you can do to prepare for guarding reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo for the first time, as Wizards rookie Rui Hachimura did on Monday night. You can watch all of the film and try to recreate what he does in practice, but part of what makes Antetokounmpo so great is that there is no one quite like him when it comes to his size, speed and mobility.
Hachimura, though, didn't do too bad in his first meeting with the Greek Freak. In fact, he helped lead a Wizards effort that limited Antetokounmpo to 22 points with eight turnovers, and that saw him foul out late in the fourth quarter.
According to NBA.com's tracking data, Hachimura forced three of those turnovers. He guarded Antetokounmpo to begin the game and very quickly set a physical tone with bump-and-run defense.
Head coach Scott Brooks described the decision to put Hachimura on Antetokounmpo, the NBA's best player, matter-of-factly.
"It's his position. He's going to have to guard a lot of good fours in this league. There is nobody better," Brooks said.
Hachimura has been much better offensively than defensively so far in his NBA career, which is common for rookies. But he was up to the challenge playing Antetokounmpo.
"I’m not scared, I just have to guard him – that’s my job," Hachimura said. "Just have to be physical."
Indeed, initiating contact was a big part of Hachimura's success against the Bucks big man. These two plays demonstrate that well.
On the first, Hachimura was aggressive in denying Antetkounmpo the ball at the rim:
On this one, Hachimura trailed him off the dribble and forced him away from the basket:
As both Brooks and Hachimura said, however, it was a team effort. Brooks said anytime you are defending Antetokounmpo, "you have to have all 10 eyeballs on him."
Antetokounmpo is, after all, the league's most dominant player. And even though he had those eight turnovers and got into foul trouble, he still had 22 points and 14 rebounds in 24 minutes.
Success is relative with a player like Antetokounmpo. But fouling him out and forcing some miscues helped the Wizards overcome a 20-point second-half deficit and reach overtime.
Hachimura's effort was a big reason why.
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