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Keeping Lopez on the court is vital to the success of Milwaukee’s offense, which uses his floor-spacing to open lanes for Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and others. He’s also a key element to their defense.
Lopez has contested more shots than any NBA player this season while setting a career-high in blocks and helping the Bucks earn the top-ranked defense in the league. His rim protection has been elite and he has affirmed himself as the anchor of Milwaukee’s defense, organizing everyone around him with his reads, reactions and calls.
“I feel comfortable regardless of who is on the court, whoever I have to guard, whatever my assignment is – I do,” Lopez said.
Opposing teams have thrown all kinds of looks at the Bucks and for the most part, Lopez has figured them out and remained on the court. He’s held his own against some of the league’s best big men, helping the Bucks to wins while matched up against Denver’s Nikola Jokic, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Utah’s Rudy Gobert. He’s also ventured outside and kept up with perimeter players, something that was put on display late in a Feb. 13 win in Indianapolis over the Pacers.
Lopez hasn’t gotten played off the court yet and no one on the Bucks bench expects that to change.
Jokic, Embiid, and Gobert may be younger and more dynamic than Al Horford, but NONE of them can shoot the long ball as well as Al. And that’s all that really matters in this match-up.
This Bucks writer cites Lopez’ -28 in 44 minutes vs Horford this season but qualifies it by stating the dominance came in the opening quarter of each game. If that’s true, the Celtics must attack all game long.
Horford has A LOT of pressure on him this series. He is the focal point on both sides of the ball. Not only does he have to guard Giannis, but he’s got to make shots.
Can Brad Stevens squeeze 38 minutes per game out of Horford? That’s about 9 minutes more than his regular season average and 3 minutes more than his playoff average last season. The schedule is on our side. Al’s coming into Game 1 with a week of rest and there will be two full days off between Games 2 & 3.
A reminder as we approach Game 1:
Importance of Game 1: The game one winner in a best of 7 has won the series 77 percent of the time in NBA history (410 of 535). In the conference semifinals since 1984, the game one winner has won the series 76 percent of the time.
— Abby Chin (@tvabby) April 28, 2019
On Page 2, taking charges from Giannis.
But sometimes Antetokounmpo lowers his head and plows forward, potentially putting the Celtics in position to get him in foul trouble by drawing charges. It could be more difficult without Smart there to take them, but there will be opportunities, and the Celtics will be cautious.
“The bottom line is if you go downhill with the force and speed that he does, there’s going to be moments where he charges,” Stevens said. “There’s also going to be moments where he draws blocking fouls and scores and-ones. He does that a lot more than he charges. You’d better not let him get that head of steam very often, because you might get a charge occasionally but he’s going to score a lot more and-ones. I just think ultimately you have to be able to move your feet. You have to be able to guard with pride. You have to be able to do all that. But nobody can do that by themselves against him.”
Baynes (18), Smart (15) and Kyrie (13) led the team. Everyone else had three or fewer.
Stepping in on that freight train is easier said than done, but getting Giannis in foul trouble can have a major impact in this series.
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