MILWAUKEE – Giannis Antetokounmpo presents a defensive conundrum for the Toronto Raptors.
Assign a shorter player on the 211-cm Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks star can take advantage on the block. Put a taller player on him and the athletic Antetokounmpo might blow past him to the hoop.
Antetokounmpo is a highlight-reel regular for dunks in transition. He can make opponents pay for double-teams, too.
The Raptors need to figure this problem out beginning Saturday, when the Bucks visit the Air Canada Centre to open a first-round series in the NBA playoffs.
“It’s not going to be a one-man job. It’s going to be a team effort to guard him,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “But him in transition, it’s not a dream, it’s a nightmare.”
Antetokounmpo blossomed into an All-Star in his first full season since coach Jason Kidd made him a primary ball-handler. He became the first player in NBA history to finish a season in the top 20 in total points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals. He’s just the fifth player in league history to lead a team in every statistical category for a season, according to the Bucks.
With 42 wins, the Bucks finished above .500 for the first time since 2009-10. Now, they would like to advance past the first round for the first time since going to the conference finals in 2001 with Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson leading the way.
By comparison, Raptors are grizzled veterans with four straight postseason trips. They lost to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals last season in six games.
“People don’t expect us to beat the Raptors,” Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon said. “We’re going in with that underdog mentality to prove people wrong. We’ve been proving people wrong up to this point and we’re going to continue to do so.”