Kevin Durant is going scorched Earth on the Milwaukee Bucks, but putting Giannis Antetokounmpo on him won’t change anything.
Basketball is a game all about bravado. Great players relish the chance to go up against other great players and the NBA playoffs are the time when fans get to see these matchups on center stage. Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo are the best players on the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks, respectively.
Giannis is catching a ton of flack for not guarding Durant in Game 5. As the Bucks watched a double-digit lead evaporate, Antetokounmpo sat back as a help defender while Durant dominated any Buck who tried to guard him.
All 16 field goals from Kevin Durant's 49-point triple-double in Game 5.
Iconic performance. pic.twitter.com/B9qVbUKScM
— Danny Small (@dwsmall8) June 16, 2021
Antetokounmpo was a unanimous All-Defense selection this year, former Defensive Player of the Year, and a two-time MVP. When you have all that on your resumé, you are expected to take the toughest defensive assignment no matter who it is.
Although Giannis was the primary defender on Durant for a grand total of 0 possessions in Game 5, he wants the challenge of guarding Durant going forward.
"I want to take the challenge"
Giannis Antetokounmpo wants to guard Kevin Durant in Game 6 pic.twitter.com/MmKIYHqcYZ
— Nets Videos (@SNYNets) June 16, 2021
“I want to take the challenge and obviously, everyone is going to have a chance to guard him, but I would love going into Game 6 to be able to guard him. If [Mike Budenholzer] wants me to do that, I’m ready for that,” Antetokounmpo told reporters after Game 5.
But this begs the question, should Giannis be covering Durant?
Again, that question sounds silly. He’s the best defender on the Bucks and Durant is absolutely torching his team. Matching those two up seems like an obvious decision. It’s not.
Antetokounmpo is an elite defender, but he’s not at his best when he’s guarding the perimeter. His best asset is as a defensive anchor who can provide help in the middle and protect the rim. Picking up Durant 40 feet from the basket on every possession would remove the backbone of this stellar Milwaukee defense.
Take a look at Giannis trying to guard Durant on the perimeter in Game 2. Although he can be a god-like figure on defense at times, he didn’t have a prayer against KD.
Kevin Durant is on a different level pic.twitter.com/W4dYeUjZpN
— Danny Small (@dwsmall8) June 8, 2021
The Real Giannis vs. Durant Adjustment
The real adjustment that Mike Budenholzer needs to make (among many) is sliding Antetokounmpo to the five more. Brook Lopez is a great player and plays a vital role, but the Nets are punishing him in the pick-and-roll every chance they can get.
Brooklyn does not play a true center, leaving Lopez matched up on quicker guys like Blake Griffin and Bruce Brown. By putting Giannis at the five, it takes away the mismatch the Nets want while keeping the spine of the defense intact.
As great as Durant has played in this series, it’s not the fault of P.J. Tucker, Khris Middleton, or any other individual player. No one is stopping Durant on his own.
The best way to contain him is by varying coverages with double teams, traps, hard hedges, switches, face guarding, and top locking. That’s on Budenholzer more than it is on Giannis.
If the Bucks do go with Giannis as the primary defender on Durant, they are still going to need to mix up those coverages. Sometimes great players are too good for the best defenders to stop. That was true for Durant in Game 5 as it has been throughout his career.
He’s the best player in the world right now according to Giannis Antetokounmpo and this writer.
"He's the best player in the world right now"
Giannis Antetokounmpo talks about the Bucks approach to defense on Kevin Durant pic.twitter.com/VEr0MzK2L1
— Nets Videos (@SNYNets) June 16, 2021