Monday was a rare night in the NBA. Not only did the Milwaukee Bucks suffer just their ninth loss of the season, but they fell to the Miami Heat, who became the first team in the league to beat them twice when they ran away in the second half for a 105-89 win in South Beach.
There were a number of reasons for their victory, including the fact that they lit up the 3-point line, taking advantage of the Bucks’ defensive tactics to go 18-of-37 from downtown, and had six different players score in double figures. You also can’t ignore the fact that the Bucks were on the second night of a back-to-back on the road.
But perhaps the most important factor in the Heat’s victory is that they were able to slow down Giannis Antetokounmpo, which few teams have had much luck doing this season. The Greek Freak looks like the favorite to win MVP again, and is putting up ridiculous numbers. Just the other day, he dropped 41 points and 20 rebounds in a win over the Hornets. But on Monday, he finished with 13 points and 15 rebounds on 6-of-18 shooting, which was tied for his lowest scoring night of the season, and second-worst shooting performance.
Like many teams, the Heat swarmed to Antetokounmpo when he had the ball, trying to pressure him and force him to give it up when they could. But unlike many teams, they also have a big man named Bam Adebayo, and the youngster was ready for the challenge of guarding Giannis.
Few players have the size, strength and athleticism to hang with Giannis, but Adebayo is one of them. Time and again, he was able to force the Bucks star into tough looks. Just a few minutes into the game, Giannis got out into semi-transition, and tried to take it right to the rim, but Adebayo wasn’t having it. The Heat center was able to move his feet, take the bump and still get up for a strong contest.
Later on, he continued to show off his rare combination of quickness, strength and defensive instincts. After getting switched onto Giannis following a screen, Adebayo cuts off the driving lane, sticks with Giannis as he tries to use a long step and again is right there on the contest.
A few minutes later, it was the same story. This time, Giannis was isolated on the wing, and tried to cook Adebayo with an in-and-out dribble, but couldn’t get the angle he wanted. So he pulled the ball back out to the 3-point line, and again tried to blow by his opponent, but was shut down. Adebayo stayed down, slid his feet and forced a turnover.
Finally, late in the fourth quarter, we see Adebayo have success in a completely different environment. Catching the ball on the block, Giannis tries to back Adebayo down, but isn’t gaining the ground he wants, and instead settles for a fadeaway jumper that he misses. That’s a shot Giannis has added to his repertoire this season, but you’d always rather have him shooting fadeaways instead of taking it to the rim.
Shutting down the reigning MVP is impressive no matter what, but the fact that Adebayo was able to have success in so many different situations is what made this performance really stand out. While he’s putting up career-high offensive numbers, Adebayo’s work on the defensive end definitely shouldn’t be overlooked in his case to be named Most Improved Player.