Columnists, Sports

Coast to Coast: Giannis is going to own playoffs

Giannis Antetokounmpo in a January 15, 2018, game against the Washington Wizards. “The Greek Freak” is poised to make a dominant run in the NBA Playoffs with the Bucks. /WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Giannis Antetokounmpo is about to do some crazy things in this year’s NBA playoffs. Already the MVP favorite, the Greek Freak is about to turn the rest of the Eastern Conference into his own tragedy.

In Game 1 against the Detroit Pistons, with no one on the roster nor in the stadium nor maybe on the planet who could guard him, he scored 24 points, grabbed 17 rebounds and dished out 4 assists in just 23 minutes and 28 seconds of playing time.

If the game had been close and he had played a full game, that stat line would have looked something like 37 points, 26 rebounds and 6 assists. But he didn’t have to worry about that — the Milwaukee Bucks handily beat the Pistons 121-86.

It really comes down to this: no one can guard Giannis. To start the game, the Pistons tried Thon Maker, a 7-foot-1-inch center who at least has the length to matchup up with Antetokounmpo. But he’s too slow.

The Pistons also tried to guard him with their center Andre Drummond, but he wasn’t quick enough, either. The frustration clearly got to Drummond, who was ejected for a hard foul in the third quarter after throwing Giannis to the ground off a fight for a defensive rebound.

Those who are quick enough aren’t tall enough. Those who are tall enough aren’t quick enough. Only one man has that combination of length, speed and size, and unfortunately for the rest of the NBA, Giannis refuses to guard himself.

Perhaps the most astounding things he does are in the transition game. Like a young Shaq, he has the ability to grab a defensive rebound and push the pace down to the other side of the court. Like LeBron, he has the ability to drive and finish at the rim with ease. But like no one the NBA has ever seen, he has the ability to go from free throw line to free throw line in just a few gallops.

The most jaw-dropping highlight from Milwaukee’s dominant performance in Game 1 against Detroit has to be Giannis’ near-free throw line dunk. Midway through the third quarter, he came up with a steal at the opposite three-point line and took just six steps to get inside his own free throw line.

From there, he took off and soared above the rim for a slam. It was as if Michael Jordan had a 7-foot-3-inch wingspan.

Giannis is even starting to improve the weakest part of his game: three-point shooting. This season, although he shot just 26 percent from three, he took 2.8 triples per game, the highest total he has attempted in a season thus far.

He’s already going to win MVP, and he doesn’t even have a reliable three-point shot yet. Once Giannis is shooting league average or above, we might get to witness the single most unstoppable force to ever step foot on a basketball court. Or are we already seeing it?

Either way, Giannis is set up for a breakout postseason. Think of LeBron’s magical 48 points in a Game 5 win over the Pistons in 2007. Or Kevin Durant’s breakout run to the NBA Finals back in 2012. Giannis will have a moment like that in this year’s playoffs. Even though he hasn’t yet won a playoff series, it is time for the NBA’s next best player to shine on the brightest stage.

Once they get past the Pistons in what might be one of the most lopsided series in NBA history — the 35-point win in Game 1 might just be an appetizer for what is to come — the Bucks will more than likely meet the Boston Celtics in the second round. And as long as Giannis doesn’t switch teams in the middle of the series, the Celtics won’t find anyone to guard him, either.

A matchup with the Celtics gives “The Greek Freak” a big stage for his big moment and also a chance for revenge. In last year’s postseason, the undermanned Celtics defeated Milwaukee in seven games, thwarting a chance for the Bucks to win their first playoff series since Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson were their stars.

In what would probably be a heated, intense battle, Giannis would get his chance against the Celtics to show the world who the next dynasty in the Eastern Conference will be. If he can defeat a team that has been to the Eastern Conference Finals in the past two seasons, then he would be on his way to doing so.

In the Eastern Finals, the Philadelphia 76ers or Toronto Raptors would most likely await. With an NBA Finals berth on the line, which would be the Bucks’ first Finals appearance since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won them an NBA championship in 1971, Giannis would rise to the occasion like no one else on either the Raptors or 76ers can.

Joel Embiid is banged up, Ben Simmons hasn’t taken the leap and Kawhi Leonard is on the Raptors. Giannis is the best player on the best team with the best coach and due for a defining moment to signal the start of his NBA dominance.

Maybe it will be a ferocious dunk in the lane, capping off a dominant run in the Eastern Conference Finals with a blowout win in Game 4. Maybe it will be a game-saving block, a la LeBron in the 2016 Finals. Or maybe it will play out over the course of an entire game, where the unguardable beast will take over and carry his team to the NBA Finals.

No matter what it is, I’m sure that it will happen. Because Giannis isn’t just satisfied with a round one win over the eighth-seeded Pistons. He might not even be satisfied with an MVP trophy. What he wants is a chance to play in the NBA’s greatest amphitheater, where Greek Freaks become Greek Gods.

 

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