MILWAUKEE — The primary time the MVP chant went up, as Giannis Antetokounmpo shot and made a pair of free throws with 9:15 left within the fourth quarter and the Bucks forward 94-76, it made sense.
Milwaukee’s sport Tuesday towards Houston had been billed as a showdown of favorites to win the NBA’s most prestigious award, with Antetokounmpo and the Rockets’ James Harden going head-to-head for under the second and certain ultimate time this season.
However by the time followers at Fiserv Discussion board chanted once more, with 1:15 left and Antetokounmpo draining his ultimate factors, that they had blown a ripe alternative — significantly the boisterous followers in a bit that dates again to Andrew Bogut and his cultivation of some soccer and rugby rowdiness.
At that time, the correct chant would have been: “M-V-D! M-V-D!” As a result of for all the person star energy on the ground, the totally different maker for Milwaukee was its protection.
Pestering, daring, constant and expertly executed protection, to be exact.
Giannis scores 19 factors, eight shy of his common.
People who confirmed up or tuned in anticipating offensive pyrotechnics from Harden and Antetokounmpo may need been disenchanted. The Houston gunner scored 23 factors, 13 beneath his common (36.four), whereas taking pictures 9-of-26 general and a clangy 1-of-9 on Three-pointers. Antetokounmpo completed with 19 factors, eight shy of his common, whereas making seven of 15 photographs.
Their different numbers had been strong — Harden had 10 rebounds and 7 assists, Antetokounmpo 14 boards, 4 assists — however neither would declare the award with 82 such nights.
It wasn’t as if others picked up the slack, both. Bucks level guard Eric Bledsoe in all probability was the sport’s greatest performer with 23 factors, seven assists, a steal and a pair blocked photographs. Chris Paul had 19 factors for Houston and heart Clint Capela added 17.
However the numbers that popped got here courtesy of Milwaukee’s protection, the NBA’s most interesting. It held Houston to 36.four p.c taking pictures, together with 30.eight p.c (16-of-52) from the arc. Moreover Harden’s misfires, Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker had been a mixed 1-of-16 for the Rockets, 1-of-13 on threes.
The Bucks had been higher on the boards (60-46), permitting Houston solely eight offensive rebounds. They dominated in fast-break scoring, 28-2, and that wasn’t due solely to the Rockets’ most popular slower tempo. The guests had 9 probabilities pushing the ball up the ground, and scored simply as soon as. Within the paint? It was Bucks 46, Rockets 36.
Eric Bledsoe scores 16 factors within the third quarter vs. the Rockets.
That final one was essentially the most spectacular, when you noticed what number of instances the Bucks nearly invited Rockets gamers — Harden particularly — to assault the rim … and lived to inform about it. Oh, the reigning MVP and NBA’s main scorer hit a number of floaters with excessive levels of problem. However the Bucks had been keen to stay with these, if it meant getting Harden off the Three-point line and venturing inside with defenders Brook Lopez and Antetokounmpo on his thoughts.
“We had been simply making an attempt to take him away from what he’s so snug doing,” Lopez stated. “Our guards, at first, did an amazing job of constructing him uncomfortable and getting him out of his spots. Then we had nice assist facet protection from the weak facet — Giannis was there — and we had been serving to the helper. … We had been very energetic.”
Lopez was a mannequin of positioning. He didn’t block a single shot, but he loomed giant in Houston’s shooters thoughts at any time when they ventured inside.
In the meantime, Bledsoe, Sterling Brown, Khris Middleton and a pair others pulled the on-ball obligation towards the league’s No. 1 ball dominator. On a number of possessions, these defenders so overplayed Harden’s deadly left hand that they had been manned up sideways, forcing him to his proper.
It was as excessive because the shifts we see as of late on MLB diamonds, nearly daring the opponent to take benefit. Heck, a number of instances Bledsoe gave the impression to be defending Harden from behind, possibly one of the simplest ways to thwart his trademark, referee-vexing, back-pedaling Three-pointers.
The Rockets nail six Three-pointers within the second, however the Bucks do not let Harden get snug from distance.
“It’s attention-grabbing, proper?” Lopez stated. “Our guards had been very aggressive. It seems like they’re not — it seems like they’re leaving him alone. However they’re doing lots to get into him.”
Stated Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer: “It’s about making an attempt to possibly cut back the variety of threes he will get, cut back the variety of free throws he will get. I believe the entire league is making an attempt to be inventive — it’s actually not a few weak spot.
“If he’s making powerful twos within the paint and we hold him off the free throw line and the Three-point line, you’re giving your self an opportunity, to make him should do one thing a bit of bit in another way.”
Harden wasn’t too beneficiant towards the Bucks, blaming himself for his misses. “I nonetheless bought my photographs up. I used to be nonetheless aggressive. I nonetheless did what I used to be presupposed to do,” he stated.
Offensive gamers and offensive-minded groups are likely to suppose that means — it’s on them, hit and miss — and Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni echoed that. “He wanted assist from Eric or P.J. to knock down photographs. I’m not an enormous believer in them stopping James. It’s what we are able to cease James and that’s about it.”
That’s nice, however the Bucks held Harden to a mixed 22-of-56 taking pictures (39.Three p.c) and swept the collection 2-Zero. They outshot their opponent for the 56th time — they’re 54-2 after they try this — they usually high the NBA each in defensive ranking (102.four because the night time started) and web ranking (9.2).
Antetokounmpo is the linchpin, his defensive bent and prowess bolstering his MVP case. However he has devoted, dependable assist, notably in Lopez and Bledsoe, who was jazzed for his Harden matchup.
“These guys are All-NBA all-defense guys,” Budenholzer stated. “The three prongs had been all working effectively collectively.”
Steve Aschburner has written concerning the NBA since 1980. You possibly can e-mail him right here, discover his archive right here and observe him on Twitter.
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