The Eastern Conference Semifinals matchups are set, and the Milwaukee Bucks seek revenge on the Boston Celtics.
In the first round of the NBA Playoffs a season ago, the Celtics used seven games to knock out the Bucks with the home team winning every game in the series.
MORE: Bucks-Celtics series preview
This time around, roles are reversed as the top-seeded Bucks hold home court advantage over the No. 4 seed Celtics, but the focus doesn't change for Boston.
It will be facing a near-impossible task of slowing down Giannis Antetokounmpo, this season's Most Valuable Player according to opposing head coach Brad Stevens.
Against a player like Antetokounmpo, the duty of trying to stop him never falls on a single player. He's a walking mismatch that is too physical and too dominant for just one person to handle the load.
It takes a team effort with multiple defenders ready to help and collapse on the star forward the moment he gets into the paint. He's aggressive when attacking the rim, and players need to be willing to sacrifice their body to come up with stops, try to draw offensive fouls or send him to the free throw line (where he shoots 72.9%).
"If he smells fear or any form of weakness he's going to seek it out, so we can't show him anything," Celtics' guard Jaylen Brown told The Boston Globe's Adam Himmelsbach at practice ahead of the start of the series.
So who will be responsible for trying to slow down The Greek Freak?
Cue Celtics' second-year forward Semi Ojeleye, a name that most often appears when talking about a Boston-Milwaukee matchup.
Though Coach Stevens has not indicated whether or not Ojeleye will be the go-to option, Boston's recent history against the Bucks shows it's likely.
Ojeleye started zero games in the regular season of his rookie campaign a season ago. When the playoffs rolled around, Ojeleye got the first starts of his career in Games 5, 6 and 7 against Milwaukee. In fact, five of the six starts in his career have come against the Bucks.
Standing in at 6-foot-7, Ojeleye sacrifices height and length against Antetokounmpo but his 240-pound frame matches Giannis physically, allowing him to and try and prevent The Greek Freak from getting into the painted area he's so familiar with.
According to NBCSN's Tom Haberstroh, over the last two seasons with Ojeleye guarding Giannis, Milwaukee posts an offensive rating of 104.3. That number is both significantly lower than their normal offensive rating of 109.6 over that time span and more favourable to the Celtics than the Bucks' 108.8 offensive rating when Al Horford is Antetokounmpo's primary defender.
According to NBA.com, Horford guarded Antetokounmpo on more possessions (41) than any other player on the Celtics this season even though Ojeleye, who defended Giannis the second-most on Boston, was inserted into the starting lineup in two of the three contests.
Horford has done the best job on the Bucks' star player so far this season, holding him to just 16 points on those 41 possessions, forcing four turnovers to just three assists while keeping him to 50% shooting from the field.
Those numbers are slightly better than the Celtics unofficial 'Giannis stopper' (using stopper as a loose term), who allowed Antetokounmpo to score 19 points on 40 possessions with just one turnover to three assists and 70% shooting from the field.
Even though Ojeleye is generally only used as a starter against Milwaukee, Horford remains the primary defender on Giannis the majority of the time dating back to last postseason - take a look:
|Name||No. of possessions||Points||FGM - FGA||FG%||Assists||Turnovers|
Horford forces Antetokounmpo to turn the ball over the most and shoot the 'worst' percentage from the field of the three options. He typically holds his ground around the free throw line, inviting Antetokounmpo to shoot from the perimeter while bracing himself for him to attack the rim with the rest of the defence ready to collapse off the dribble.
Ojeleye usually extends a bit further than Horford, still welcoming the outside shot but with a quicker step and a more physical frame he can try and yield The Greek Freak before he gets going downhill with the defence still ready to collapse when he gets into the key.
The Celtics haven't been able to slow down Giannis yet this season, with the All-Star forward averaging 31.0 points on 59.3% shooting from the field - both numbers are better than his averages for the year.
But his rebounding and assists numbers decrease while there is an uptick in turnovers, proving there's some sort of progress in using Horford and Ojeleye to try and wear out the unstoppable force.
Slowing down Antetokounmpo is just one piece of the puzzle in attempting to beat the NBA's best team and it should be must-see-TV watching him fend off Celtics defenders to try and continue the dominant, MVP-like run he is having this season.
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