How Toronto’s unusual strategy can help Bulls topple Giannis, Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Bulls will have to go through the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Bucks and Bulls have a rather complicated history following Grayson Allen’s infamous flagrant two foul on Alex Caruso that led to Caruso fracturing his wrist and missing seven weeks of play.

In his absence, the team went under .500 and their defense vanished, as they were also missing Lonzo Ball and Patrick Williams. The team only won five games in the month of March and got smacked by the Bucks twice in that span.

The Bucks dodged the Brooklyn Nets at the end of the year by resting their rotation players. By doing so, they ensured that they played the Bulls in the first round.


It makes sense for the Bucks though. They completed the season sweep with dominant blowouts. In a game where Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton each were in foul trouble, the Bucks led by double digits for the majority of the game.

Why wouldn’t they want to play the Bulls?

For the Bulls to have a shot at the upset, they need to find a way to limit Antetokounmpo’s impact. It is a hard task but there has been a sort of successful blueprint that threw Antetokounmpo off his game. This tactic was known as the “wall,” and was used in the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals by the Toronto Raptors.

How the Bulls can jack the Raptor’s wall on Giannis Antetokounmpo

The Raptors’ 2019 roster featured length and defensive specialists at all positions, allowing them to throw different defensive looks at Antetokounmpo throughout the game. Toronto “built a wall” that forced Antetokounmpo to shoot over length in the middle of the paint, not allowing him looks right at the basket.

They did this by putting their best defender at the small forward position on Antetokounmpo and then blitzing him with their most versatile post when Antetokounmpo got downhill. In that series, it was Kawhi Leonard on the ball with Serge Ibaka or Marc Gasol joining the trap– though Pascal Siakam joined in from time to time.

This concept is similar to blitzing guards in the pick and roll, only instead of trapping up top, the trap comes in the paint area ONLY on a drive.

The Greek Freak struggled against this scheme because he drives out of control and lacks a secondary move outside of his patented spin move. This scheme forces him to maintain control of his body and make the proper reads.

Since that isn’t his strong suit, he threw turnovers and drew a lot of charges. He also was unable to score on initial drives. In that series, he only scored 25 or more twice and saw his lowest plus-minus total of the postseason.

The Miami Heat replicated the wall in the 2020 playoffs when they beat the Bucks in five games. They did so with less length but better on-ball pressure. They were able to get Antetokounmpo to foul out in Game 3– sealing the series for the Heat.

Miami reverts to this strategy on sight when it comes to playing the Bucks.

The strategy is clearly effective. The question is who can make this work for Chicago?

This worked for the Raptors because they had size and mobility from their small forward to their center that season.  The Raptors had the luxury of having great defenders with length and athleticism. Siakam, Leonard, Ibaka and Gasol are all players known for their defense. They are versatile and long, the exact build needed to contain Antetokounmpo and the Bucks.

The Bull have similar versatility.

Derrick Jones Jr. has the athleticism and lateral quickness to defend Antetokounmpo head-up. Tony Bradley, Tristan Thompson and Nikola Vucevic have the height to create the wall on the drives.

Chicago’s guards will have to be ready to help on shooters if Antetokounmpo makes the right read. When the guards recover, the players in the initial blitz will have to run off to the open person. The most important players to cover in the scramble are Jrue Holiday and George Hill.

Both guards are Milwaukee’s best decision makers. In a scramble situation, there are always mismatches. Quality decision makers find those mix-matches and exploit them. Covering those players will put the ball in the hands of a player who can’t fully expose the Bulls. They would want Bobby Portis or even Khris Middleton to get the ball.

Portis is the first choice, for obvious reasons. Middleton, though a gifted scorer, has the same problem as Zach LaVine. He sees the floor well and makes the right read but it is often late or the wrong type of pass.

If the Bulls are successful in blitzing Giannis and forcing the ball into the hands of poor decision makers, they will be in good shape to pull off the upset.

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