Playoffs 2021

One Play: Has Blake Griffin figured out an answer for Giannis Antetokounmpo?

Welcome to "One Play!" Throughout the 2020-21 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.

Today, Brooklyn Nets center Blake Griffin takes the spotlight.

Context: Blake Griffin has been a difference-maker through two of Brooklyn's second-round series games with the Milwaukee Bucks.

In Game 1, Griffin recorded his first double-double of the 2021 NBA Playoffs with 18 points and 14 rebounds on 7-for-13 shooting from the field and 4-for-9 from 3-point range. He also dished out three assists and came up with two steals.

While Griffin finished with only seven points and eight rebounds in Game 2, he still made his presence felt. His two dunks got most of the attention - Griffin had more dunks in Game 2 than he did in 20 games with the Detroit Pistons this season - but it was his defence on Giannis Antetokounmpo that stood out the most.

You know what that means - to the film room!

The play:

Breakdown: The ball winds up in the hands of Antetokounmpo following an offensive rebound from Brook Lopez.

With 12 seconds remaining on the shot clock, Antetokounmpo immediately goes into attack mode while Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, P.J. Tucker and Lopez space the floor by overloading the weakside.

It's iso time.

Antetokounmpo was one of the league's best 1-on-1 scorers this season. According to NBA.com, he averaged 4.8 points per game in isolation, putting him behind only James Harden (8.7), Damian Lillard (5.5), Julius Randle (5.0), Russell Westbrook (5.0) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (4.9) for most in the league.

Not only that, but Antetokounmpo ranked in the 85th percentile with an average of 1.07 points per isolation possession.

Antetokounmpo has made some strides as a shooter, but knowing how dominant of a paint scorer he is - only Zion Williamson averaged more points per game than him in that area during the regular season - Griffin backs off him in the hopes that he'll settle for a jumper.

Antetokounmpo doesn't take the bait this time. Instead, he sizes Griffin up and hits him with his patented spin move as he approaches the paint.

This is where things get interesting.

Helping one pass away is a dangerous game, but Bruce Brown times his help perfectly, leaving Middleton to pounce on Antetokounmpo when he's in the middle of his spin.

Antetokounmpo picks up his dribble and Brown gets a hand on the ball.

Antetokounmpo makes the right play by kicking it out to Middleton, but Brown closes out in time to get a hand up, resulting in a miss.

Why it matters: Antetokounmpo had his way with the Nets in Game 1, going off for a game-high 34 points on 16-for-24 shooting from the field.

In Game 2, not so much.

Antetokounmpo was still Milwaukee's leading scorer, but he scored 12 of his team-high 18 points in the third quarter when the game was already out of reach. The Bucks held him to two points on 1-for-4 shooting in the first quarter, followed by four points on 2-for-4 shooting in the second quarter.

At the half, the Nets were already up 24 points.

Giannis Antetokounmpo when defended by Blake Griffin (NBA.com)
Minutes Points FGM-FGA Assists Turnovers
Game 1 5:44 20 9-12 2 2
Game 2 5:08 9 4-10 1 2

Antetokounmpo looked pretty comfortable attacking Griffin in Game 1, but the Nets did a few things well in Game 2.

One, they continued to give him space when he has the ball in his hands, welcoming Antetokounmpo to take any shot he wanted outside of the paint.

Antetokounmpo shot 7-for-19 (36.8 percent) from midrange and 10-for-26 (38.5 percent) from 3-point range against the Nets in the regular season. Not bad, right? Through two games against them in the playoffs, he's 1-for-5 (20.0 percent) from midrange and 2-for-8 (25.0 percent) from 3-point range.

Two, Griffin was physical with him in the post.

The Nets have better options if they want to defend Antetokounmpo with height and/or length, but Griffin has the size to keep him from bulldozing his way to the basket.

Three, the Nets built a wall.

The Nets aren't the defensive juggernauts that the 2019 Toronto Raptors or 2020 Miami Heat were, but they're using a similar blueprint as both teams did against Antetokounmpo, defending him with strength at the point of attack and making sure he sees multiple bodies whenever he gets close to the paint.

It's quite different from how the Nets defended Antetokounmpo in the regular season.

Just compare this possession from Game 2:

To this possession from Milwaukee's win over Brooklyn on May 5, a game in which Antetokounmpo scored 49 points:

The end result is identical - a turnaround over his right shoulder out of the post - but the Nets aren't giving him nearly as much space.

Antetokounmpo even had a lot of space to work with in Game 1.

Here's another one. Keep an eye on Kevin Durant on this play:

Lopez is one of the league's better 3-point shooters at the center position, but Durant is clearly not concerned with leaving him open. He turns his back to Lopez to cut off Antetokounmpo's air space.

What's interesting about the Bucks is that they've been gearing up all season long for this, mixing in new things offensively to better prepare themselves for when teams load up on Antetokounmpo like Griffin and the Nets did in Game 2. Now that the moment is here, do they have the answers to avoid the same outcome as the last two postseasons?

The Bucks regaining their touch from 3-point range would certainly help. Moving the ball more would as well. It would benefit everyone on the roster, but Antetokounmpo in particular, as it would make it harder for the Nets to crowd him.

It's no surprise that Antetokounmpo was at his best in Game 1 when there was more movement on offence.

All of this sets the stage for a fascinating Game 3, where the Bucks face the possibility of falling into a 3-0 hole that no team in NBA history has ever crawled out of.

And at the centre of it all is the battle of the middle between Griffin and Antetokounmpo.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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