For the second series in a row, the Milwaukee Bucks dropped game one to their lower seeded opponent in the 2020 NBA Playoffs. In this second round series versus the Miami Heat, the opening game was dominated by Heat’s Jimmy Butler, who scored a career high 40 points against the top ranked Milwaukee Bucks defense. The Bucks defense, led by the recently elected Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo, didn’t have an answer for the Heat guard as he torched the team throughout the whole night. Well, they may have had an answer if they chose to give the supposed best defender in the league a chance at stopping Butler, but after certain comments were made post-game by Giannis it appears he may not have been up to the challenge.
During his press conference following the game, Giannis was asked if he suggested to his coach that he should get a turn at trying to stop the Heat guard, to which Giannis gave this intriguing response:
To the naked eye, this may not seem like a bad response. You’re supposed to do what your coach says, right? This is true, yes, but when a guy is going for his career high on your ass in a playoff game and you’re the DPOY, then is it not your obligation to try and stop him? Not only that, but shouldn’t you want to go and shut that guy down? When you look at the history of the award, you see names such as Kevin Garnett, Gary Payton, Kawhi Leonard, and Michael Jordan; all guys who take pride in being the one to stop the other team’s best player night in and night out. They would all go out of their way in order to shut down their strongest opponents, sizing up who the biggest threat was and welcoming the challenge with a sinister grin. Granted, this idea can be changed for big guys due to the nature of the game (Dwight Howard probably wouldn’t be the best option to pick up a shifty point guard), but one of the reasons Giannis won the award this year was because he has been praised for being able to guard all positions on the court. His athleticism along with his size is something we haven’t seen before in the league, so surely Giannis would follow in the footsteps of his predecessors and pick up Butler.
Nope. Not really. He just does what his coach tells him to do. This is exactly why I didn’t believe Giannis deserved the award this year. It felt as if they gave the award to the person who seemingly should be the best defender in the league, not to the person who truly embodies what it means to be a lockdown defender in the NBA.
When you compare what transpired last night with Giannis to a guy like Marcus Smart, a guard for the Celtics who is known for being a pest on the court and for being able to guard positions 1-5 despite being 6’3”, 220 lbs, the balls and grit mentality is evident in Smart’s game but not in Giannis’. Giannis lacks the killer instinct needed to truly be a lockdown defender. You have to not only want to limit your man to zero points, but you shouldn’t even want to give him enough room to get a sip of water while he’s sitting on the bench. This is the mindset all the great defenders have in NBA history, and I have yet to see it from Giannis. The world will see if Giannis answers the bell following all of the criticism in game two, or if he will just simply wait for his coach to give him permission to play defense on Butler.