Title: Raptors make defensive adjustment first, giving Kawhi Leonard more time guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo
Date: May 21, 2019
Original Source: The Athletic
Synopsis: In my latest for The Athletic Toronto, I wrote about the Raptors blinking first with their decision to put Kawhi Leonard on Giannis Antetokounmpo more often in Game 3 against the Bucks.
The Raptors blinked first.
Perhaps that’s unfair. The Raptors’ strategy for defending Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks already included at least some intermittent winking. In any case, after opening up the Eastern Conference Finals in a 2-0 hole and seeing Antetokounmpo open multiple halves with tone-setting dunks — not to mention the 54 points, 31 rebounds and 11 assists overall — the Raptors made the change most had anticipated would come at some point: They stuck Kawhi Leonard on the league’s potential Most Valuable Player.
In a vacuum, Leonard and Antetokounmpo guarding each other makes plenty of sense. They are each singularly difficult offensive problems for defences to deal with, and they are each among the best individual defenders in basketball. Few defenders seem as good a bet to slow Antetokounmpo’s attacking dominance as Leonard, and few defenders seem as good a bet to use length and physicality to force Leonard into a tougher diet of shots. Were basketball to operate where ties are established in one-on-one play, two of the league’s best five players going toe-to-toe guarding each other would be a no-brainer.