The Greek Freak has arrived in Toronto, both literally and figuratively. Giannis’ feasted on the Raptors in Game 1, putting up 28 pitas, 8 revithia, 3 arakas and one emphatic barbouni (which earned him a technical that was later rescinded.) In case you haven't figured it out yet, I’m cultured, but also: Mr. Antetokounmpo is really good at basketball.
This poses a serious problem for the third seed Raptors who, for three consecutive first rounds, will be facing the fact that the best player on the court is wearing the opposition’s colours. Much has been made of Toronto’s use of a committee look on defense to contain Giannis, but one unsuccessful attempt into the series, it’s time for the Raps to rethink things.
Let’s take a quick look at what Dwane Casey’s team can employ to limit his effectiveness in Game 2.
Option 1 - Heavy Zone Defense
Zone defense is rarely employed on NBA hardwood with the depth of talented shooters and playmakers. Having said this, the Milwaukee Bucks might be the team to hit with the zone. While the team shoots a respectable percentage behind the arc (37 percent on the season, good for tenth in the league), they rank in the bottom ten in both attempts and makes per game.
What’s more, Giannis shot 27 percent from behind the arc, meaning every possession the Raptors crowd the paint and force a jumper from beyond, is one less possession that needs to end in a Slenderman poster. Now, if guarding the Greek Freak was the only concern for the Raps, this defense could be employed for more of the series. The problem however is that the Bucks have a few talented floor spacers in Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, and even Tony Snell that will make coach Dwane Casey, the man who once used a zone to stop peak-era LeBron James, think twice. In small doses however, it could help.
Option 2 - Stretches without Two Point Guards
The Milwaukee Bucks are a tall, athletic squad that forces their opponents into awkward mismatches all game long. The cause of the complication stems from their two primary ball-handlers, Giannis and Brogdon. Listed at 6’11 and 6’5, the youngsters from Milwaukee (plus 6’8” Middleton) ensure that smaller point guards have difficulty containing the backcourt, and have nobody of similar height to switch onto. It’s a problem.
The Raptors like to use smaller lineups with both point guards, Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph, for stretches in the second and fourth quarter. Against the tall Bucks, this may be an unsustainable approach. While I wouldn’t expect a non-PG (but lengthier lineup) of DeMar DeRozan, P.J. Tucker, DeMarre Carroll, Serge Ibaka, and Jonas Valanciunas used at some point, it does appear that the Raptors should try to match size with size. The sacrifice of speed and ball-handling may be worth it.
Option 3 - The Ibaka Shadow
As great of a hustle player Carroll is, he sacrifices height and lateral quickness to Giannis. To a similar point, P.J. Tucker is more prone to check a powerful post scorer than he is to chase Antetokounmpo in transition. (Though he was effective at bullying the young forward for stretches.) This leaves only one feasible option: Bruno Caboclo! Wait, wrong article, I mean: Serge Ibaka!
Ibaka only sacrifices around an inch in height to the Greek Freak, and with incredibly long arms of his own, only about a foot in reach (hah). Serge is relatively quick on his feet for a big dude — though he’s a game time decision for tonight’s contest due to a rolled ankle in Game 1 — and possesses that all-world shot-altering capability that just might disrupt Giannis’ pursuits to the rim. Of the three options, this one (with perhaps the option of using Patrick Patterson on Giannis as well) seems possible, if not probable. It would still depend on size matchups, with Ibaka tasked with guarding whichever Bucks forward/centre is on the floor, or a greater trust put in Valanciunas on defense.
Whatever the case may be, the Raptors will have their work cut out for them with this strange Bucks team in Game 2.