When the Milwaukee Bucks hosted the Utah Jazz on Monday night at the Fiserv Forum, Jazz head coach Quin Snyder employed an interesting strategy: He matched up All-Defensive center Rudy Gobert on All-Pro forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. It immediately drew the attention of everyone watching the game, as it appeared to be a bold, novel strategy.
According to Synergy, Antetokounmpo went 5-10 including 0-3 from downtown when Gobert was defending him and scored 10 of his 30 points on the night. Here’s what his Synergy shot chart looked like with the Utah big man on him:
The 50 percent shooting indicates Antetokounmpo had a fairly decent night. Especially considering he was only 13-for-30 in the game for 30 points. However, let’s take a deeper dive into the film to see what sort of impact Gobert had while defending Giannis.
The Bucks’ All-Star gets things going early on the second possession. Following a defensive rebound, he quickly brings the ball up the floor and goes one-on-one with the Stifle Tower.
With the other four Bucks spaced out to the perimeter, Antetokounmpo has the whole lane to work with. Gobert does a nice job of sliding his feet and keeping his arms out. However, thanks to all the time spent in the gym; Antetokounmpo makes a a ball fake, pivot and up-and-under look real simple as Milwaukee quickly goes up 4-0.
This is where things get really interesting. Snyder didn’t only put Gobert on Antetokounmpo because of his on-ball defense. More importantly, the Jazz seven-footer had the ability to squat in the lane and deter any and all shots in and/or around the rim.
After Sterling Brown catches the pass following a pin-down screen from Antetokounmpo, the teammates go into a two-man game on the wing. Gobert’s menacing presence down-low forces Brown to think twice about going to the hoop. However, he uses a nifty hesitation that acts as if he’s about to drop the ball off to his All-Star and then finishes with a right hand layup that goes underneath Gobert’s block attempt.
This time, Gobert gets the best of Milwaukee and single-handedly disrupts their sideline out of bounds play.
We’ve seen defenders sink on Antetokounmpo before, but Gobert took it to a whole new level in this game. Following the inbounds pass to Antetokounmpo at the top of the key, Gobert has both feet completely inside the free throw line, deterring any off-ball action the Bucks are trying to get around the rim:
Antetokounmpo probes the lane, but decides there’s nothing there. He then kicks it out to Tony Snell on the wing and proceeds to set a ball screen. Guess who’s there to stop it? Snell then kicks it back out to Antetokounmpo who fearlessly attacks the seven-footer off the dribble. Unfortunately, Gobert keeps his arms up high and deters/blocks two shots around the rim and helps the Jazz secure the defensive rebound.
Again, Gobert completely disrespects the Greek Freak’s jump shot and sets up his RV in the paint. Malcolm Brogdon is able to get past Donovan Mitchell off the dribble and what would normally be a wrong-footed layup turns into a hectic scramble.
Brogdon is forced to abandon his initial shot attempt and sloppily drops the ball off to a cutting Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe then kicks it back out top to Thon Maker who shows off some rarely seen ball skills. Maker attacks the lane, forces Gobert to step up and then drops it off to Antetokounmpo. The Greek freak does the rest, as he creates contact with the Jazz big man and finishes the and-one layup.
Despite Antetokounmpo not taking a shot on this possession, his lack of an outside presence completely stifles any chance the Bucks have at getting a good look.
After Brogdon brings the ball up the floor, he swings it to Maker who continues to rotate it to Antetokounmpo. Maker then sets a down screen for Brogdon who gets the ball back. Maker continues with a ball-screen and the Jazz aggressively trap it. As Maker rolls, he would be wide open except a certain seven-footer is sitting in the lane waiting for him. That’s where Antetokounmpo comes into play.
Following a traditional over-dribble by Brogdon, he’ll eventually find Antetokounmpo wide open in that same spot. However, Antetokounmpo hesitates despite the nearest defender being in Waukesha. He follows it up by taking one dribble toward the free throw line, as a Jazz defender continues to fail to really pick him up. Regardless, he drops the ball off to Snell who is forced to take an off-the-bounce pull-up jumper. Not exactly his strong suit.
As the clock is winding down on this possession, Gobert’s presence is known despite him never getting that close to the basketball.
Bledsoe receives the pick from Brook Lopez and is attacking the rim with four seconds remaining on the clock. We’ve seen him blow by defenders like this in the past, but this time is different. Antetokounmpo is in the weakside corner where he’s only made 14 percent of his shots all season long according to Cleaning the Glass. Gobert knows this so he’s completely sold on stopping the drive. In return, Bledsoe has to stop his attack and shoot a tough, off-balance pull-up. Brick.
Despite Gobert’s intimidating factor down low, Antetokounmpo continued to show he wasn’t scared of the Jazz big man. He attacked him like few players in the NBA are capable of. Here, he shows off a beautifully maneuvered footwork routine to get the tough hook shot to fall.
The last play I want to show you comes at the very beginning of the fourth quarter. With the Bucks trailing by three points, head coach Mike Budenholzer drew up a gorgeous play to get Milwaukee and the crowd lit for the final quarter.
Antetokounmpo brings the ball up and dumps it off to Bledsoe after he set a back-screen for Brogdon. Meanwhile, Snell sets a pin-down on the weakside for Maker who comes up to set a pick for Bledsoe as Brogdon is cutting through to the weakside corner. Notice how all of this action is happening on one side of the floor with Antetokounmpo the only player left on the other side.
This is what one might call fake action. Budenholzer has designed all of these things to happen in order to distract the entire Jazz defense. Utah thinks something is going on with all of those players involved so that’s where their focus turns. Most importantly, it’s where Gobert’s eyes are.
The play works to perfection. Antetokounmpo performs a Maggette cut (named after former Bucks’ great Corey Maggette) and yams home on Gobert’s face.