The task of stopping a player like Gianni Antetocumpo – has there ever been a player like Giannis Antetocumpo? – is a kind of collaborative swamp.
You need a player who is big, strong and agile enough to stay in front of him at the same time. You need others, preferably long-sleeved men who bother him with their hands from the periphery. Then you need someone who stands up and protects the ring from imminent attack.
The Boston Celtics have it all. They showed the same thing last week, spectacularly, when Kevin Durant, Kairy Irving and the rest of the Nets swallowed them in defense of the sand. And yet, that may not be enough.
On Sunday, Antetokumpo led the Milwaukee Bucks to a comprehensive, 101-89 victory in the first game of the Eastern Conference semifinals in Boston, silently overnight, sparking an uproar around the Celtics after their impressive four-game draw. .
In the process, when one of the hottest teams in the NBA looked normal at night, Bucks also made the point: The talk of national basketball – the obscurity that pervades television, social media and newspaper columns – may go unnoticed. At times, however, they are reigning champions and employ one of the world’s most spectacular athletes.
The league’s Most Valuable Player award this year could be seen as a two-man competition between Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets and Joel Embid of the Philadelphia 76ers. And the series and the train crash may draw the attention of fans to other big market teams. But all this time, Antetocumpo and Bucks continue their work as one of the most excellent clubs in the league.
So for Antitokoumpos, this series is an opportunity: How much better is it to raise your high reputation than against the league’s most formidable defense?
“He continues to read the game,” said Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer at Antetocumpo, who overcame several early fights to secure a triple-double: 24 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists. “Sometimes he wins. Sometimes he shares it. He knows he has to do both. ”
Last month, the Celtics made their way into the playoffs loudly, long-legged, athletic defenders working together in their awkward, disoriented, aggressive defense system to replace their first-year coach, Ime Udoka.
Durant looked confused in all this. After the series, he voluntarily sang Boston Praise.
Durant and Antetocumpo enjoy a similar build in the NBA they are both virtuoso artists. But they work in different ways. If Durant is an artist who has a watercolor palette, Antetocumpo is a sculptor who has a hammer and a chisel in his hands.
If there was any hint on Sunday, the physicality of the rest of Antetocumpo and Bax could be the main difference between the first and second rounds for the Celtics.
When the Celtics tried to pull the Antetocump into one way or another, he would simply skip around them, the sports car moving in traffic. If Boston defenders – big men, all of them – tried more physical methods to stop him, they would touch his body weakly.
In the middle of the fourth quarter, the Celtics appeared in the middle to throw Antetocumpo into a dead end once. He looked around and realized he was trapped – “I’m going to get stuck,” he said to himself – he threw the ball from the back board and snatched it out of the air again on top of Jason Tatum for a two-way dunk.
“It’s a pure talent, a pure instinct,” Budenholzer said. “He is a great player. He does things that are unique, special and timely. This is one of those performances where you are happy that he is with us.”
More important, however, than the work of one superstar – and another potentially crucial difference between the circumstances of Durant and Antetocumpo – was the contribution of Milwaukee’s supporting cast.
The focus at Antetocumpo has shone even more on the absence of Chris Middleton, the team’s second-best player, whose participation in the series has been called into question since he injured his left knee in Game 2 of the first round last month. Of all the three-time stars who have averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 assists per game in the regular season, Middleton attracts a lot of attention with his ability to create his own shot and score in isolation.
When he watches the game from a chair in a dark blue jacket, the more attention the Celtics can have towards the Antetocump, the more time the ball spends in his hands.
But those who grieve over Middleton’s absence may ignore the rest of Bucks’s cast from trusted satellite contributors, players who can sink a shot after the defense collapses at Antetocump.
Jru Holliday, who often celebrated for defense but was an excellent scorer when called up, scored 25 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists. Grayson Allen led the Bucks reserves by 11 points, three of six three-point attempts.
“I try to be as simple as possible,” Antetokumpo said. “My teammates were there, they were open and breaking shots.”
Yet all these players, the integrity of the Bucks world – their attack, defense, their collective mood and personality – revolve around Antitocumpo.
How much fuel should be burned? He played all but a few seconds in the first quarter, took a small break at the beginning of the second and reluctantly rested in the third, after an immature fourth break. Otherwise, he spent 38 penalty minutes, finally taking a break just because the game was clearly decided.
He then let out a long sigh as he sat down on a chair to talk to reporters.
“Maybe I’m weird,” Antetokumpo said when asked if he felt rude. “I’m developing physically. I love the feeling of being beaten after a game. I do not know why. “My family thinks I’m a weird person.”
To protect the Celtics, who are still smart, from carrying steam, these can be scary words.