Tall Task Ahead for C's in Milwaukee
WALTHAM, Mass. – Brad Stevens lauds defensive versatility.
That’s exactly what he and the Boston Celtics will be up against when they face off against the Milwaukee Bucks Tuesday night.
Following Boston’s practice Monday afternoon, and prior to its flight to Milwaukee, the C’s coach noted the challenges ahead of them considering the Bucks' extreme versatility, coupled with their incredible length.
“That [length] has been clearly a major emphasis for them and it makes it difficult, there’s no question about it,” said Stevens. “They have great versatility defensively. They can put a bunch of different guys at the 3 and the 4,” which Stevens believes is “the toughest matchup area in the NBA right now.”
Milwaukee’s starting lineup in particular has unbelievable length. Their frontcourt boasts three 6-foot-11 players – Giannis Antetokounmpo , John Henson and Greg Monroe – who all have wingspans over 7-2. Then their backcourt is made up of 6-8 wing Khris Middleton and 6-6 point guard Michael Carter-Williams.
The Bucks’ length was a major factor in their defensive prowess last season, when they ranked first in the league in forced turnovers per game and second in defensive rating. Celtics swingman Evan Turner said they will have to move the ball pristinely in Milwaukee and come out with a bang like they did Friday night against Washington.
“We’re really going to have to execute and we gotta wear them down and deliver the hit first,” said Turner. “We’ve gotta play a sound game.”
Milwaukee’s athleticism and ability to cut to the hoop makes them a threat inside, meaning Boston’s bigs will have their hands full.
C’s forward Amir Johnson said the key for Boston is “playing together as a unit, knowing who we’re guarding, make sure all five guys are rebounding and boxing out because they do have length. Just playing as a unit I think, that’s what we practiced on today. Switching up defense, knowing when to double-team. We might switch it, give them different looks.”
The 6-9 forward added, “The main thing I think we gotta do is just box out because they have guys that can definitely crash the glass.”
One of those players who can crash the glass relentlessly is, Antetokounmpo, a 3rd-year forward who Johnson said is a “very long, athletic, hard worker [with] just unbelievable length.”
The 20-year old, also known as the “Greek Freak” is regarded by many to be one of the most versatile players in the NBA, and can virtually play and guard any position on the floor.
Antetokounmpo is averaging 19.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game through seven contests, and Stevens commended the impact he’s having in Milwaukee.
“Even when he was a rookie he did some things that made your jaw drop,” said Stevens. “Last year [he] just got better and this year, early on in the season, he’s been pretty close to dominant.”
Stevens indicated that his size and athleticism makes him a nightmarish figure to guard.
“They’ll play him big at the 3 – and he’s improving his shooting, but he’s a great cutter and a great offensive rebounder, a great transition player – and then at the 4 he’s a versatile guy,” said Stevens. “They don’t lose anything from the length standpoint [when he’s ] at the 4, and they become quicker.”
Fortunately, the Celtics have players who can switch seamlessly between guarding the 3 and the 4, with its versatile forward duo of Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko.
“If you’ve got guys that can guard multiple positions, especially that can swing from the perimeter to the bigs and vice versa, it’s huge,” said Stevens. “Especially the way the game is being played with so many skilled 4s, so many shooting bigs.”
The Celtics have guarded Antetokounmpo well in the past. They have held him to 7.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game during seven contests.
However, he seems to be a completely different beast so far this season, so Boston will have its work cut out against the Greek Freak and his lengthy supporting cast.
Smart Doubtful Against Bucks
Marcus Smart, who missed Boston’s last two games with a sprained left big toe, is doubtful to play in Milwaukee Tuesday night, according to Stevens.
He went through some drills during Monday’s practice, but the C’s coach said “he just didn’t look quite 100 percent. He had a little limp. I don't know if that's like trusting it and a confidence issue, or lingering pain; I don't know if it could be extra padding that's in there.”
Smart said his goal is to be back in playing form by the end of this week.
“That's the plan," said Smart. "From the looks of it, that's where I'm heading. These next couple days of treatment and rest should help me with that."
If Smart does not play against the Bucks, Stevens expects that Turner will see plenty of playing time in the ball handling role.