Ahead of every Milwaukee Bucks contest, whether it's in the regular season or playoffs, there's always one burning question: Who will guard Giannis Antetokounmpo?
That question smacks the Atlanta Hawks square in the face ahead of their Eastern Conference Finals showdown with the Bucks.
Antetokounmpo is enjoying his best postseason statistically so far, averaging 28.8 points, 13.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists while shooting 53.3 percent from the field. Even with the free throw line being unkind, Antetokounmpo is putting together a career-defining playoff run. And now, the Hawks have to figure out a way to try and stop him.
In the three games against the Hawks this season, Antetokounmpo averaged 24.3 points, 11.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists while shooting 64.3 percent from the field. Let's face it, if the Hawks are able to keep the Greek Freak to those modest averages (by Antetokounmpo's standards, at least) they'll have a great shot of shocking the basketball world, again.
With Solomon Hill, John Collins and Clint Capela, the Hawks have a trio of bodies they can throw at Antetokounmpo in hopes of slowing him down, giving them a puncher's chance in the Conference Finals.
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In the regular season, no Hawks player spent more time on Antetokounmpo than Hill. Hill guarded Antetokounmpo for 7:35 of game time, according to NBA Stats. Antetokounmpo feasted on him, scoring 16 points on 31.8 partial possessions while shooting 85.7 percent from the field.
At 6-foot-6 and 226 pounds, Hill on paper should be too small to make life difficult for Antetokounmpo, but as we saw with Blake Griffin in the series against the Brooklyn Nets, if Hill is patient and works on keeping his body in front of Antetokounmpo, he could have some success.
Like he did here:
The difference between Griffin and Hill is that Griffin had the size to body up with Antetokounmpo. Hill lacks that, but what he does have is a supporting cast that will surely be ready to offer help when he's in need of it.
The Hawks have shown a defensive scrappiness so far in the playoffs that simply wasn't there in the regular season. They'll need it to try and slow down Antetokounmpo. In the regular season, the Hawks only drew a total of 24 charges, which ranked them 23rd in the league. So far, they lead the playoffs in charges drawn with 11.
Collins was the team's best charge-drawer this season and he's continued that in the playoffs, but Capela has gone away from only being a shot-blocker to putting his body on the line to pick up offensive fouls in the playoffs. Capela drew just one charge all season long. He's had four so far in the playoffs.
If there's one knock on Antetokounmpo - outside of his subpar shooting touch, of course - it's that he's prone to pick up a fair few offensive fouls. Antetokounmpo has already been called for eight offensive fouls in the playoffs, according to Basketball-Reference.
With Hill, Collins or Capela as the primary defender, the Hawks may be able to pick up a couple of offensive fouls on Antetokounmpo and take him out of his game. If Antetokounmpo is overthinking his drives, he may be more apt to rely on his jumper and that would be a win for the Hawks in this series. And with one of those three as the primary defender, it will allow the Hawks to have big bodies ready to create the wall Antetokounmpo is so used to seeing now.
Keeping Antetokounmpo and the Bucks out of the paint will be a must for the Hawks in the East Finals. Atlanta did a great job of locking down the paint against the Knicks, only allowing 38.8 points per game in the paint in that series, but failed to keep Philadelphia on the perimeter, giving up 46.6 paint points per game in the East Semis.
In theory, the keys to beating the Bucks are simple - slow down Antetokounmpo and you have a shot.
The Hawks have more weapons to throw at him than most might think, but the task is easier said than done.
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