Sport

Did Giannis Antetokounmpo ask to defend Jimmy Butler? ‘No, I didn’t. Why would you ask that?’

Jimmy Butler torched the Bucks for 40 points in the Heat’s Game 1 win. Butler did most of his damage against Khris Middleton and Wesley Matthews.

Often left out of the action? Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Ben Golliver of The Washington Post:

Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo on whether he asked to switch onto Heat’s Jimmy Butler during late-game explosion: “To guard him? No, I didn’t. Why would you ask that? I’ll do whatever coach wants me to do.”

In some ways, this is the “right” approach. Defense is about five players performing together – not a single playershutting down the opponent. Antetokounmpo provides tremendous value as a help defender. His weakside presence pushed Butler into more difficult shots.

But Butler was making those shots. And there’s something to be said for elite players exerting their will in the biggest moments. Rising stars often need to learn how to do that. Antetokounmpo clearly wasn’t ready last year, when Milwaukee lost to Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors. Antetokounmpo still must prove he’s ready this year.

Antetokounmpo can defend Butler. That’s what makes Antetokounmpo so good defensively. He can do it all. Smothering a scorer like Butler is absolutely in Antetokounmpo’s wheelhouse.

However, maybe putting Antetokounmpo on Butler would’ve opened something else for Miami. Butler makes winning plays. He understands that can mean shouldering the scoring burden in crunch time, but he’s also a willing passer.

Middleton and Matthews are effective perimeter defenders. Butler made tough shots. Just because he made some tough shots didn’t mean he’d continue to make them. He did make them. But that wasn’t fait accompli. Nor is it fait accompli he’ll continue to make them the rest of the series.

That said, players get into rhythms. A havoc-creating defender like Antetokounmpo could disrupt Butler, who seems mighty confident right now.

It’s a very fine line – one ripe for a narrative. Antetokounmpo is either a smart and steady team player who shows the power of trusting the process or a fraudulent superstar who’s afraid of the big moment. As usual, we’ll see the small-sample results then draw sweeping conclusions about Antetokounmpo’s basketball character.