It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the key to stopping the Bucks is to limit Giannis’ scoring in the paint. How one goes about stopping a freakish athlete like Giannis around the basket may in fact require a rocket scientist though. If there were ever a coach to crack the code, Celtics coach Brad Stevens would be the one to do it. It is no secret that Giannis can score at will in transition and Brad Stevens makes it a point to limit Giannis to as little fast break points as possible. In the regular season Giannis had 17% of his field goal attempts in transition, but against the Celtics this season was held to only 10.5% of transition attempts. While it may be impossible to keep Giannis completely out of the paint, the Celtics do as good of a job as anyone at giving the Greek Freak trouble in the paint.
The Bucks are a team that thrives in transition, so the Celtics stress keeping the game in the half court to limit easy transition baskets for Giannis and company. Unlike most teams that have adapted to the pace and space offenses of this era, the Celtics run two traditional big men at the center and power forward positions. Against some teams that would cause a mismatch, but against the Bucks Boston is able to stick Aron Baynes on Henson or Zeller and Horford against Giannis. As seen in the screenshot below the Celtics allow Baynes to act as a free safety in the paint while paying little attention to Henson when Giannis enters the paint.
The lack of spacing that Henson and Zeller bring (or lack of effective positioning) essentially provides a second rim protector for when Giannis beats his man. Additionally, the use of two big men allows the Celtics to switch any Giannis/big pick and roll. Should Aron Baynes get switched onto Giannis, Baynes is instructed to provide at least a two foot cushion, begging Giannis to shoot a pull up jumper. As shown in the following video, the Celtics use their two big man rotation to insure there is always a big man ready to contest Giannis at the rim.
While the Celtics can provide double the rim protection when Giannis is on the floor with another center, the Bucks also run Giannis at center with four shooters and effectively take away the Celtics use of two big men. In the clip below the Bucks ran two corner pin-down screens to keep any help defender out of the paint and isolate Giannis at the top of the key. The Bucks ran this play three times on Sunday resulting in 7 points.
When attempting to limit the Bucks transition opportunities, Brad Stevens stresses getting back on defense following a missed field goal. The Celtics essentially eliminated any transition opportunities off their own missed shots forcing the Bucks to manufacture transition opportunities off of Celtics turnovers. In the event of a turnover Stevens has a strategy to slow Giannis and the rest of the Bucks in transition.
In a pre game media session earlier this year Steven’s said the Celtics must “build a wall” in transition when defending Giannis. This means that the Celtics goal is to get three players back in transition to “wall off” Giannis by placing a player in between him and the basket with two defenders at each side to stop the Freak from euro stepping to the left or right. While getting three defenders back in transition off a turnover is easier said than done, the clip below gives an idea how the Celtics ideally like to defend Giannis in transition.
All in all the Celtics have to keep Giannis from dominating in the paint if they hope to win this series. Only time will tell if the adjustments Stevens has made will be enough to lift the Celtics to a series victory.