Why Grant Williams vs. Giannis Antetokounmpa could decide the Celtics-Bucks series

BOSTON – At first glance, the strategy seems counterintuitive: stick a 6-foot-6 player bet on Giannis Antetokounmp’s 6-foot-11 and ask him to keep one of the top five players in the 1-on-1 league.

But that’s exactly what Celtics head coach Udoka’s name with Grant Williams did on Tuesday night at TD Garden – with impressive results.

Williams and Al Horford alternated in a solo match with the Milwaukee Bucks superstar for most of the Eastern Conference semifinal match 2, and Williams carried most of the burden.

Antetokounmpo’s stat line through one half? Five points on 2 of 12 shots.

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Giannis eventually got his own, scoring 23 points in the second half and finishing with 28 on the night. But those were mostly empty calories, as Boston’s work in the first half on the NBA MVP finalist helped the team establish a double-digit advantage that it never gave up on the road to a 109-86 victory.

“We’ve talked about keeping it a little more 1-on-1. We feel we have defensive guys who can do that,” Udoka said of the Celtics’ defense plan for Antetokounmpo. “Obviously he was extra aggressive in the second half, but in order to score 28 on 27 shots, we defended well in the beginning.

“Grant is a big part of it. His versatility is something I’m talking about. He’s out there like a mini Al. measure is what we need with such a player.

“That’s one of Grant’s main strengths in keeping those guys safe.”

Williams was by far Boston’s best defender at Antetokounmp, remaining steadfast on Giannis ’post-ups and forcing him to heavy jumpers or offensive offense. Player who wanted to be called “The Batman” due to his work on Nikola Jokić earlier this season, he reminded his coaches once again why he can be trusted in isolation against elite offensive players.

“I think I’m keeping him on an island where only you and he are,” Williams said after the game. “You have to do your job. And for us it was kind of like we looked at this game to see how it would go.

“He started to be a lot more aggressive in the second half and go downhill and create for himself, but that’s just one of those things you have to bend over and believe in the job you did and give it your all to feature one of the best players in the world . “

Since they didn’t need help at Antetokounmp, the other Celtics defenders were able to stay home and take away the passing lanes. Boston effectively eliminated Milwaukee’s outside game on Tuesday because the Bucks only made it three Triples in 18 attempts compared to 20 threes for C.

If the Celtics can repeat that defensive formula when the series moves to Milwaukee for Games 3 and 4, they should continue to succeed. But Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer offered a subtle reminder after the game of who we’re dealing with.

“Giannis, he always understands things,” Budenholzer said.

Indeed, Antetokounmpo didn’t sound particularly upset despite hitting just 38.4 percent of his shots (20 for 52) through Game 1 and 2.

“It doesn’t really change my (approach). I’ve seen it almost my whole career,” Antetokounmpo said. “… I’m going home, I’m going to eat something – I don’t know, I’m watching some Netflix, Hulu, HBO, anything. Play with your kids, shoot, rehearse, watch a movie and get ready for game 3. We know what it’s about . “

This series could depend on what version of Giannis we see after his three-day break – and whether Williams can continue to prevent one of the game’s best players from taking the lead in attack.

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