OLYMPICS NBA East semis on May 1: Antetokounmpo dominates Celtics

OLYMPICS

NBA East semis on May 1: Antetokounmpo dominates Celtics

CGTN

17:50, May 02, 2022

Giannis Antetokounmpo (R) of the Milwaukee Bucks holds the ball in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, May 1, 2022. (Photo: CFP)

The Milwaukee Bucks beat the Boston Celtics 101-89 in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals at TD Garden in Boston on Sunday, taking a 1-0 in the series.

Despite the loss, the Celtics limited Giannis Antetokounmpo to shooting 9-of-25 from the field. The "Greek Freak" missed 10 of his 16 attempts in the paint, but he showed the league his influence on the game is much bigger than scoring.

Antetokounmpo has been no stranger to being trapped but he used to lack the vision to find open teammates quickly and the ability to make the comfortable pass. That was not the case in Sunday's game. Whenever he was double-teamed in the elbow area or drew help defense under the hoop, Antetokounmpo always connected with Grayson Allen or Pat Connaughton at the 3-point line. When shooters received his pass, they were able to fire off immediately, with no need to adjust.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (#34) of the Milwaukee Bucks passes to his teammate Grayson Allen (#7) in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, May 1, 2022. (Photo: CFP)

Although the Bucks only shot 12-for-34 from downtown, some of these plays were intimidatingly smooth, just like the jumpers Antetokounmpo made in the mid-range. There weren't a lot of them, but they sent a message to the Celtics: this trick of mine worked, are you changing your defensive tactics?

The Celtics stuck to their pre-game planning defensively, but fell into the opponent's rhythm on the offensive front. They had the league's seventh-lowest pace during the regular season and the sixth-best 2-point field goal (FG) percentage. However, the Celtics shot as many as 50 triples in Sunday's game, over a third more than their average number (37.1) for the regular season. Though they made 18 of these shots, many of the missed 3-pointers resulted in long rebounds, leading to a great number of opportunities in transition for the Bucks.

Antetokounmpo, a historic master of fast-break offense, easily exploits this style of play. Not only did the Celtics trail 28-8 in fast-break points, they stopped making extra passes to find opportunities for easy points. Instead, they rushed too many triples and committed nine turnovers while forcing the ball inside.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (#34) of the Milwaukee Bucks dunks in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, May 1, 2022. (Photo: CFP)

Bucks Coach Mike Budenholzer continued to use the huge starting lineup that included Brook Lopez, Antetokounmpo and Bobby Portis. Moreover, the team always kept two of the three big guys on the court, except during the final three minutes of the third quarter because Antetokounmpo committed his fourth personal foul.

One of the best benefits of having such a "Great Wall" on defense was shutting the Celtics out of the Bucks' paint. The Celtics only shot 31 FGs in the paint and made 10 of them to score just 20 points. Jayson Tatum shot 2-of-8 in the paint; Jaylen Brown hit 1-for-2 there. By contrast, the star duo of the Celtics combined for 18 shots behind the arc and missed 11 of them.

Another secret behind the Bucks' big win in Game 1 was that they disturbed the Celtics' orchestrating of offense. In their 4-0 first-round series against the Nets, both Tatum and Marcus Smart averaged more than seven assists per game. Therefore, on Sunday, the Bucks allowed Smart to shoot from outside and tried not to get help defense when he penetrated, both to contain his passing.

Brook Lopez (back) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (R) of the Milwaukee Bucks defend Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, May 1, 2022. (Photo: CFP)

As for Tatum, the Bucks often double-teamed him from the high post, sometimes by sending one of the big men out of the paint to force him to drop the ball. Smart is the team's starting point guard while Tatum has the best court vision and poses the strongest offensive threat. When both were removed from the lineup, the rest of the team found it even more difficult to run the offense.

That's also partly why Brown was not as powerful as he was on offense. Instead of raiding from the weak side, he had to handle the ball longer than he should, making his side the strong side. Unfortunately, Brown's isolation skills are not good enough to beat Portis or Wesley Matthews in most possessions.

Game 2 of the series will happen at TD Garden on Tuesday.

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