How Giannis’ individual brilliance offsets the Bucks’ continued defensive struggles

NEW YORK – The Milwaukee Bucks searched all game long to find the right combination of personnel and tactics that would allow them to consistently get defensive stops.

Then, in the big moments of the game, Giannis Antetokounmpo blocked back-to-back possessions to allow them to escape Brooklyn with a 129-125 victory on Monday and move to 4-2 on the season.

“Man, I mean, he’s amazing. You are a winner. Those are winning games,” Bucks coach Adrian Griffin said. “He is willing to do whatever it takes for us to win as a team.”

Antetokounmpo tallied 36 points, 12 rebounds and three assists in the win, but his two blocks in the final 30 seconds were the biggest plays of the game. Both have come in unexpected ways, at least this Bucks basketball season.

The Buckeyes have been one of the NBA’s worst transition defenses this season, but what’s even more disappointing is rebounding. Per Cleaning the Glass, more than 43.1 percent of opponents’ live ball possessions led to turnover plays against Milwaukee, the league’s highest frequency, and the team has given up more than 1.45 points per possession in those games, the league’s highest number.

So, with 35 seconds left and a two-point lead, the Bucks found themselves in the worst position imaginable.

While he almost orchestrated a crunch time offense in the final four minutes of the game, forward Khris Middleton missed a 3-pointer from mid-range. Jae Crowder and Bobby Portis crashed the offensive glass in the corners, and when they failed to get the rebound, Crowder put the ball back from the rim and into the Nets basket. There, it landed in the hands of Nets rookie Ben Simmons, who looked up the floor and found Dorian Finney-Smith in front of the Bucks’ defense, moving toward the rim.

This situation has led to easy baskets for opponents all season, but this time, with help from Middleton, Antetokounmpo made the play.

After that layup and sequence that led to Damian Lillard making just one of two at the free-throw line, the Bucks needed another stop and began looking at a new defensive approach.

Throughout the night, Griffin tried several defenses. Strategically, the Buckeyes started the game with Brook Lopez compared to Simmons, dropping back to the non-shooter and blocking the lane with help defense and dropping coverage on pick-and-rolls and dribble handoffs. But the Nets’ speed and small players, as well as Mikal Bridges’ ability in the middle, proved too difficult for the Bucks to deal with Lopez on the floor, and the big man could not find a way to affect the game defensively. he did on Friday against the New York Knicks.

Griffin switched to a longer point guard position on Monday to counter the Nets’ speed and look for a way to keep some of his big players on the floor defensively. Finally, the Nets eased up against that consistency.

In the final three minutes, however, Griffin chose to bring on Portis instead of Lopez and allowed all five players on the floor to change selection actions. That didn’t end well as Cam Thomas, the Nets second wing who scored 45 points on 33 shots on Monday, and Bridges (31 points) took turns probing the defense until they had a chance to attack Portis off the dribble.

Struggling to find a real solution to what the Nets were doing offensively, Griffin opted for a new look to close out the game. With a three-point lead and 23.4 seconds remaining, he took his traditional centers down and played a line with Antetokounmpo serving as the name center.

After Simmons inbounded the ball, the Bucks switched Thomas from Crowder to Lillard to Middleton, and Middleton ran Thomas to the lane and forced him to the basket, where Antetokounmpo waited and blasted Thomas’ shot off the glass before finally collecting the rebound and closing it. the game.

“I didn’t think I was big there; I was trying to play basketball,” Antetokounmpo said. “I was fortunate to be in the right spot on the floor and be able to get those blocks.”

Antetokounmpo was able to make enough defense to lift the Bucks. However, overall, they did not defend well. For the third time in just six games, it gave up 125 points or more. As of Tuesday morning, they have given up 116.7 points per 100 possessions, which is the league’s 24th-ranked defensive rating.

From the outside, it may seem like the Buckeyes are struggling to find their identity defensively, but Antetokounmpo insists they already know.

“We know who we are; we’re just trying to figure out what works, and we have to be good at everything,” he said. “I think we do a lot better when Brook is down. We are really good when we play small, we can change. We can make guys play one-on-one and take tough shots. Sometimes we have to play the zone whenever we want to make them shoot more 3s, and tie the ball, go the other way, especially when we’re trailing and down 10 and trying to come back. in the game.

“There are many things we cannot do (we didn’t do) last year. So there will be times when it will work, and there will be times when it won’t, but it doesn’t hurt to try. And right now, we’re trying things, and eventually, we’ll find out what we can do well and we’ll do it and we’ll know the situation we should do things with. ”

Antetokounmpo’s open-mindedness in probing the defense could be a big help if the Buckeyes really want to find new and exciting ways to put together stops. But so far, they haven’t been very successful. It didn’t hurt them too much in the win column, but they may not have pulled off Monday’s win without Antetokounmpo’s performance.

If it wants to pick up points in the regular season, it will need to find a more sustainable defensive effort than it has been able to produce in the first six games.