Giannis Antetokounmpo is having a moment.
The 24-year old is coming off a regular season in which he shattered any preconceived notions about what's possible for a man standing a shade under seven feet tall. The likely Most Valuable Player, Antetokounmpo is the most dominant pound-for-pound scorer in the paint, the most unstoppable force on the fastbreak and the most "you can't put him in a box" guy we've ever seen.
How did the Raptors handle him in Game 1 and what does it mean for the rest of the series?
The Greek Freak in Game 1
On the surface, the version of The Greek Freak that showed up in Game 1 is a version that Raptors' fans would probably settle for in every game in this series.
He scored 24 points while making fewer than half of his shots and had nearly as many turnovers (five) as made field goals (seven). Yes, he was everywhere defensively. Yes, he controlled the glass. But that's a version of Antetokounmpo that the Raptors can live with which in a way is what's most terrifying about the prospects of playing against him.
Looking at the box score, you'd live with him finishing with six assists. But if it doesn't quite seem like that tells the whole story - well it's because it doesn't. In Game 1, Antetokounmpo drove and kicked the Raptors to death, finishing with 18 potential assists, nearly double what he averaged over the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Entering the series, no player in the NBA was scoring more points on the fastbreak than the galloping Greek God who often goes end-to-end in what seems like a single bound. For as much credit as the Raptors get for dictating pace in Game 1, particularly Kyle Lowry who looked to turn it into a track meet every time he touched the ball, it also enabled the Bucks to unleash the scariest version of Antetokounmpo which is the one with a full head of steam in the open floor.
He scored a game-high 10 fastbreak points, nearly three more than his postseason average heading into the series. As great a job as Toronto did of slowing him down in the half court, he still nearly got his due to an ability to do what he does best: run.
Add everything together that he did on both ends and Antetokounmpo essentially had what for him was an average game.
Which takes us to the next point: his average game is frighteningly fantastic.
The Greek Freak This Postseason
During the previous two postseasons, Kevin Durant won back-to-back Finals MVPs in a pair of series that included both LeBron James and Stephen Curry. On perhaps the most talented team in NBA history going against perhaps the most talented player in NBA history, it was Durant that emerged as the best player. Up to this point, that run was the crowning achievement for truly one of the best to ever lace 'em up.
Giannis has been even better.
Game Score is a number that takes into account everything that goes into a box score. It's a good proxy for just how dominant a player performs over any stretch of individual games or in this case, postseasons.
Durant's average Game Score in the 2017 and 2018 playoffs? 22.9.
Antetokounmpo's over the first two rounds of the 2019 playoffs? 22.9.
Antetokounmpo in Game 1 against the Raptors? 23.1.
Again... Milwaukee's best is an absolute beast for whom an average night stacks up to the best of the best at his very best.
But his arrival on the postseason stage extends far beyond simply a narrow comparison to Durant. That merely goes to show how he compares in the ever-evolving debate about who is the world's best player.
Taking into account this postseason run on the heels of a historic regular season and a much larger theme starts to take shape.
In all of NBA history, there have only been six instances of a player finishing the regular season with a Player Efficiency Rating of at least 30 and then doing it again that same postseason.
|2011-12 LeBron James||31.7||30.3||27|
|2008-09 LeBron James||30.7||37.4||24|
|1999-00 Shaquille O'Neal||30.6||30.5||27|
|1990-91 Michael Jordan||31.6||32.0||27|
|1989-90 Michael Jordan||31.2||31.7||26|
|1963-64 Wilt Chamberlain||31.6||31.3||27|
Antetokounmpo would be the seventh and using history as our guide, would appear to be on the precipice of dominating the league.
Though Wilt Chamberlain was already an MVP when he pulled off the double, he took it to another level in the years to come as he won three straight MVP awards and finally won a championship.
The first time Michael Jordan did it came just before he unleashed one of the greatest individual stretches of dominance in league history. Bounced in the Conference Finals in 1990, he came back to win six championships over the next eight years while staking his claim to being the greatest of all-time.
Shaquille O'Neal's double dip came during his lone MVP season and on the front end of a three-peat during which he won Finals MVP three straight years.
In terms of age, the only real comparison to Antetokounmpo's early ascent is LeBron James who was the same age in 2009 as the Greek Freak is in 2019. Though his Cavaliers got bounced in the Conference Finals after finishing with the league's best record, that season was the first of a five-year stretch in which James won four MVP awards while ushering in the dawn of an era in which the road through the East went through LeBron and LeBron, only.
So yeah... that's the player the Raptors are trying to slow down.
What can the Raptors do?
As mentioned earlier, the Raptors would probably be happy if the version of Antetokounmpo that showed up in Game 1 is the one that shows up in every game from here on out. At least that version is somewhat manageable.
Nick Nurse opted for heavy doses of Pascal Siakam to defend the Greek Freak. According to NBA.com's matchup data, Siakam was matched up against Siakam 38 times in Game 1, three times more than any other defender. For his part, Siakam delivered as he held Antetokounmpo to 2-6 shooting to go along with three assists and four turnovers. He also did it without fouling as Milwaukee's transcendent star, who made a living at the line against Boston in the last round, only got to the line once when guarded by Siakam.
Make no mistake, this goes well beyond the burden of one man. Siakam didn't and can't do it alone as it takes a total team effort with smart help, excellent transition defence and constant communication to keep him at bay.
One area where the Raptors should be particularly leery of is whenever Antetokounmpo gets matched up against one of Toronto's bigs as he absolutely roasted both Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka with the Bucks posting an offensive rating of 150.0 on the 24 possessions he was guarded by one of those two.
Expect to see more of the same in Game 2 with Siakam drawing the lion's share of the assignment while trying to limit vulnerable mismatches.
At the end of the day and no matter who ultimately gets the nod, it's a herculean task.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is in the middle of delivering an all-time, wire-to-wire "I've arrived" season, the likes of which we've rarely seen.
Above all else, here are two words for Toronto... Good luck.
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