Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo has been playing at an MVP level this season, and the Phoenix Suns have a plan to stop him.
4:39 p.m. Eastern
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps
MILWAUKEE, Wis. — Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo is expected to continue his dominance in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday night, as he and his teammates want to even the series with the Phoenix Suns.
Phoenix, like every other team facing Antetokounmpo, will try to hold the two-time NBA MVP at bay by walling off the rim, something the Suns have failed miserably to accomplish through three games (Game 4, 9 p.m. ET Wednesday, ABC).
Just a few short years after entering the NBA as a gangly adolescent with an unknown ceiling to his talent, Antetokounmpo marveled on Tuesday that teams are already designing defenses expressly intended to limit him.
After Tuesday’s practice, Antetokounmpo remarked, “The first time I saw the wall was maybe two years ago.” “However, I’ve always been capable of passing before that.” It’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing. Throughout my career, I had coaches and individuals that assisted me in locating the right person, making the correct pass, and making the right play. But it’s all about faith now that I’ve begun seeing the wall, nearly two years ago. And it’s difficult because you want to be efficient, go downhill, and do everything.
“You also take it personally. A squad is attempting to stop you by erecting a three-person barricade with two men behind it. Now it’s up to you to not take it personally and make the best decision possible, such as finding the perfect man. Since two years ago, I feel like I’ve become better at it… But, prior to the construction of the wall, I was always a good passer. It’s amusing that there’s a defense known as the Giannis Wall. It’s kind of amusing to me, you know?”
The Suns, who have seen Antetokounmpo tear past their defenders and go to the rim time and time again, aren’t laughing. He is one of just four players in NBA Finals history to score at least 100 points in each of his first three games, including Hall of Famers Rick Barry, Allen Iverson, and Shaquille O’Neal. In each of the last two games, Antetokounmpo has scored at least 40 points and grabbed at least 10 rebounds.
Phoenix has tried everything from center DeAndre Ayton to forwards Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges, and Cam Johnson, but Antetokounmpo’s offensive skill has remained mostly unchanged. Following Milwaukee’s physical takedown of the Suns in Game 3, it’s reasonable to expect Phoenix to attempt to take the initiative in Game 4 to make Antetokounmpo’s life more difficult.
Suns coach Monty Williams said Tuesday, “They took it to us.” “There isn’t any other way to look at it.” They used a lot of power in their play, going for 50/50 balls and assaulting the paint. We had a few bursts of playing the way we normally do, but we weren’t as consistent as we needed to be. I believe I stated something similar the other day. We had a terrible transition defensive lapse from the first possession of the game, and they got a corner three in transition.
“They deserved credit for it. They were physically active and played with a lot of enthusiasm. We were tough, but they were tough from the start. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I could sit here and make excuses for what we didn’t accomplish and all of that, but they were playing at a high level.”
Antetokounmpo, in particular, was relentless in his attacks. In Game 3, he drew 17 foul shots on his own, compared to 16 for the Suns as a team, as Williams pointed out after the game on Sunday.
“Someone asked me the question, so I addressed it,” Williams said of his point on Tuesday. “And then there’s the free throw discrepancy.” That’s exactly what I did. One of their players had a total of 17 free throws. There were 16 of us.
“That isn’t a complaint. That is a factual statement.”
When questioned about the difference between the teams — and his role in it — Antetokounmpo claimed he was unaware of the debate, claiming he doesn’t pay attention to social media.
He did, however, bring his own facts regarding whether or not he is deserving of those visits to the free throw line.
“I believe I get a nice thrashing down there.” “They’re making my beautiful face ugly,” Antetokounmpo remarked with a grin, pointing to his forehead and nose, before laughing and adding, “So they’re making my pretty face ugly.”
“However, it is what it is. I just try to concentrate on what I need to accomplish and how I can assist my team in becoming successful. That’s where I’m going to focus my efforts.”
Part of it will include continuing to go over, around, and through the barriers erected by the Suns to stop him. Antetokounmpo has been chastised in the past for his proclivity for attempting too many shots instead of attacking the basket, as well as his free throw shooting woes.
But, he added, all he can do now is adhere to the mantras he repeats at news conferences: compete as hard as he can while still enjoying the experience as much as possible, and let the chips fall where they may.
“You have to take that as a complement,” Antetokounmpo said of defensive strategies aimed at slowing him down. “You have to find the amusement in everything.” In that, ‘1, 2, 3, 4’ [when opposition supporters count how long it takes him to shoot a free throw], whatever.
“You must constantly look for the amusement element. So, yes, the fact that there are three people in front of me preventing me from getting in the paint and constructing that wall is a praise.”
The only ones who despise it more are those who hope it will succeed.
“No matter how he does it, he does it.” “Do you get what I’m saying?” Chris Paul said the following. “He comes down there and dunks, dunks, dunks, dunks, dunks, dunks, dunks, dunks, dunks, dunks, dunks, dunks, dunk So there you have it. I believe you must find a method to stop him. We’ll have to think of a method to slow him down. Slowing him down or not is a question of [winning] the game for us.
“The game must be won. It doesn’t matter to me how the stat sheet looks after the game. The game must be won. Because he’s a two-time MVP, we have to deal with him as such.”
Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo is motivated by the Phoenix Suns’ defense designed to slow him down. Reference: mlb doubleheaders.
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