Giannis Antetokounmpo took a lot of stick last season during the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round series loss against the No. 8 seed Miami Heat. One of the reasons why the former Defensive Player of the Year was so heavily criticized was because he did not match up defensively against Jimmy Butler.
Butler was Miami’s best player throughout that five-game series, averaging 37.6 points per contest. The Bucks had no answer for Butler, and the fact that Giannis did very little to try and prevent a nightly explosion from the Heat talisman was a much-talked-about aspect of that lopsided series.
Milwaukee Bucks Star Giannis Antetokounmpo Reacts to Jimmy Butler Matchup
It was an entirely different story on Monday night, though. Giannis was given the opportunity to take on Butler as his defensive assignment, and the former back-to-back MVP delivered. Antetokounmpo held Butler down to just 13 points on 4-of-11 from the field, which ultimately led to a 122-114 win for Milwaukee.
After the game, Giannis sounded off on the opportunity to match up against the Heat’s best player after more than two years:
“It felt good. It felt good,” Giannis said, via Gabe Stoltz of Brew Hoop. “I think I did a good job at times.
“… Sometimes, I have to guard the best player. … I feel like I’ve been, at times, I’ve been protected. I think a lot of players around the league when you have a superstar, the best player, they kind of protect them. They have them guard the guy that’s not super aggressive so that he doesn’t get in foul trouble.
“… I believe I’m one of the best two-way players to ever play this game and I want to have that challenge. I want to take the challenge and at times, I’m not gonna be that good. At times, I’m not gonna be good for my team. But at the end of the day, I don’t feel like I can kind of shy away from the challenge.
“… You want to be able to go back home, know that you gave everything for the game and you gave it everything to stop the other team’s best player. Sometimes, that means you have to take the challenge and you have to do it yourself.”
Times Have Changed
You can’t really blame the Bucks for trying to “protect” Giannis in previous years. However, it’s much different this season now that Damian Lillard is in the picture. Dame’s offensive prowess will allow Anteotkounmpo to put in more effort on the defensive end, and Monday’s outing against the Heat was a perfect example of the same.
“The first game, I had a chance to guard (Joel) Embiid for a couple possessions, which I loved,” Antetokounmpo continued. “I don’t remember the last time I guarded him. It was for years, and today, I had the challenge to guard Jimmy after three years. The last time I guarded him was in the playoffs of 2021 in the first round.
“I’m happy. I’m happy that Coach is allowing me to take that challenge and I hope I can be good for my teammates.”
It’s not as if Giannis was a non-factor on the offensive end against the Heat either. He finished with a game-high 33 points on 12-of-21 from the field. However, the fact that Dame also scored 25 points in his third game for Milwaukee obviously had a significant impact on Antetokounmpo’s performance on both ends of the floor.
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