All hail Playoff Giannis, may his reign be long and fruitful
We all knew that our first exposure to playoff Giannis Antetokounmpo would be a treat, and the Greek Freak did not disappoint in game one of the Bucks/Raptors series. Antetokounmpo was the engine the drove this Bucks team to a 97–83 victory. The Bucks young superstar put up 28 points on 13-of-18 shooting, with a handful of dunks in the first half that can only be described as freakish:
Not to be outdone by antics on offense, Ante put the Raptors to bed with this block on DeMar DeRozan in the fourth quarter:
If you haven’t watched any Milwaukee games this year, it may have come as a surprise that they have a 22 year old wunderkind who can dunk on anyone in the league, and who despite his seven-foot frame plays a lot more like a point guard than a center. It’s Gianni’s ability to receive an outlet pass, race past the entire opposing team’s defense, and throw down a earth shattering dunk on any possession that makes him special. At lot of digital ink has been spilt in praise of Russell Westbrook’s transition game, but imagine if Westbrook was seven feet tall with hands that make you question the very nature of reality:
It’s not just in transition that the Giannis is dangerous, he is also a huge problem in the pick-and-roll game. When the Raptors switch on screens involving Greek Freak they run the risk of having the much smaller Kyle Lowry or Corey Joseph matched up on him, and that is just death. If they try to fight through the screen they give him a window just big enough to squeeze by his defender and get to the basket. This is the same problem that every team has had to deal with when playing against Milwaukee, and increasingly there have been fewer solutions.
Lowry struggled mightily in game one, scoring only 4 points on 2-of-11 shooting, and not hitting a three. This is only Kyle’s fifth game back after sitting out a large portion of the season with a broke wrist. It stands to reason that he is going to need some time to get his jump shot back in working order, but the Playoffs are a cruel mistress and do not care about injuries. The Raptors were only 4-of-21 from behind the arc on the day, and when Lowry isn’t shooting well they become vulnerable. When playing a team like the Bucks, who are just impossibly long and play a Warriors-esque, switch happy defense, it’s tough to get a lot of separation; and with the three point shots not falling it makes life a lot harder on the post players and DeMar DeRozan in the paint.
DeRozan started the game off hot and for awhile it looked like he and Giannis would trade baskets throughout the game, but he fell into the same swoon as the rest of his teammates in the second half, shooting 1-for-8 — and only getting to 27 points because of his ability to get to the free-throw line. The Raptors shot a putrid 20% from the field in the second half and a lot of that blame has to go their two best players who combined for 2-of-15 in that time period. When Toronto’s stars are not playing well there is zero flow to their offense, and for large swathes of this game it seemed like none of the Raptors were getting shots they felt comfortable taking.
This isn’t how things were suppose to go down in the first game of this series. The Bucks are a much younger team who should have been trying to find their playoff legs for the first time. The Raptors have been ordained the Eastern Conference team with the best chance of challenging the Cavaliers, but none of that showed today. What’s clear is that Giannis is not afraid, far from it. He can get to whatever spot on the floor, whenever he pleases and there are not any defenders on the Raptors roster that can do much to stop him. If Kyle Lowry does not find his jump shot, and soon, this could very easily be the biggest of the first round.