The Boston Celtics weren’t expected to win Game 1 in Milwaukee, but behind a near-flawless defensive scheme, they dominated the East’s top seed.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks breezed through the first round, even more so than the Celtics did. They were up against an undermanned Pistons team ill-equipped to defend them and Giannis disposed of them accordingly.
Whether they were expecting it or not, it was a rude awakening for the Bucks in Game 1 Sunday against the Celtics. Boston reclaimed home court advantage by suffocating the likely MVP of the league. Led by Al Horford’s incredible individual effort against Giannis, the Celtics made the Bucks play out of their comfort zone, simple as that. They made every shot Antetokounmpo took a battle just to get a clean look.
Containing the Freak
Giannis lives in the paint. His jump shot is his key weakness so a big man like Horford can afford to give him space to shoot so he can swallow his drives to the basket with strength and savvy.
If you go back and watch Game 1, there are numerous instances where Horford gets low on Giannis to take away his positioning, and then pounces on his shot attempt perfectly. It got to the point where the Greek Freak started taking perimeter jump shots, which is exactly what Boston wants him to do.
Horford guarded Giannis on 31 possessions during Game 1, and on those possessions, Antetokounmpo shot 3-11. All of his makes were threes. Considering Giannis shot 25.6 percent from three this season on 2.8 attempts per game, a 3-for-5 performance from deep is something I’m sure the Celtics can live with.
Tatum didn’t have the best game offensively, scoring just four points on 2-of-7 shooting, but his defense on Khris Middleton was excellent. Middleton gave the Celtics fits in last year’s playoffs. He averaged 24.7 points and shot 59.8 percent from the field and 61 percent from three. Let me repeat, 59.8 PERCENT ON HID FIELD GOALS AND 61 PERCENT ON THREES.
Containing Middleton had to be second on the Celtics’ defensive to-do list, and using a defender like Tatum was the best way to start. Tatum isn’t a lockdown perimeter defender like Marcus Smart or Jaylen Brown, but his length can bother good shooters. In Game 1, he did a phenomenal job of forcing Middleton into tough shots.
Middleton still made a good amount of tough shots, but as long as Tatum keeps up his pressure Middleton won’t be able to maintain an efficient shooting percentage. Length also helps generate turnovers, and when Middleton was worried about generating space, Tatum capitalized.
Milwaukee will almost certainly come into Game 2 with adjustments to the Celtics’ defensive scheme. They’ll try to emphasize kick out passes to counter Boston’s help defense on Giannis’ drives, and they’ll probably try to generate more free throws as well. Game 2 will have a desperate undertone to it because the Bucks can’t fall behind 2-0 at home, but if the Celtics play defense with the type of focus they did in Game 1, it’s going to take more than adjustments for the Bucks to win.