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    Celtics 4-1 zone turns Giannis Antetokounmpo into a Greek Anomaly

    Apr 30, 2019
    PHOTO: AP
    spin zone

    CHICAGO - Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens is highly regarded in the NBA community as a 42-year old whiz kid, a genius with a clip board.

    You can now add magician in his multiple skill sets.

    In guiding the fourth-seeded Celtics to a lopsided 112-90 Game 1 victory, Stevens made the league's No. 1 offense disappear as the mighty Milwaukee Bucks scored 28 points less than their 118.1 points per game average.

    Stevens also turned the Greek Freak into a Greek Anomaly, finishing with just 22 points on 7-of-21 shooting. Blanketed by a swarm of green jerseys throughout his 34-minute outing, Giannis Antetokounmpo, the leading MVP contender, looked more like the most puzzled player.

    "Whenever I got in the paint, when I spin or when I try to change direction, the second guy was right there. If they are going to play like this the whole series, I have to be able to make the right pass and trust my teammates to knock down shots," a dazed Antetokounmpo told reporters at his post-game presser.

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    Banks and other financial institutions were closed during the odd Sunday noon tip-off, but the Celtics still pulled the day's richest heist - homecourt advantage and a 1-0 lead in this Eastern Conference semifinals.

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    From my vantage point at Fiserv Forum's press row, I had the good fortune of watching Stevens work his art. It was a joy to behold.

    He used multiple defensive schemes to clip the wings of the high-flying, high-octane Bucks, who made only 31 of their 89 field goals and just 13 of their 39 treys. Khris Middleton had 16 points but the three other Milwaukee starters - Brook Lopez, Sterling Brown and Eric Bledsoe - were held to 12 points,

    The 4-1 zone was especially lethal. It ensured the presence of three Celtics defenders in the lane all the time, suffocating Giannis at every turn. It also kept Antetokounmpo away from the "funnel," the hoops lingo for the middle one-third of the floor, where he does the most damage with his athleticism.

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    Zones of the 4-1 variety is a weapon of mass confusion. It minimizes off-the-dribble penetrations. It eradicates second-chance points, something Boston did admirably well by controlling the boards, 51-44. The 4-1 zone also induces bad shots.

    The 3-point shot is a glaring weakness in Antetokounmpo's game. That's why he only took 203 of those in 72 regular season games (2.8 per). But in Game 1, Giannis hoisted five treys, and that's not because he was channeling his inner Larry Bird, he merely took what the defense allowed.

    And though Antetokounmpo surprisingly sank three of those triples, the Celtics will keep giving him that shot all day, every day. Giannis is a 25.6 percent shooter from far-flung places, odds the Celtics love.

    TO THE HORROR of a sellout crowd of 17,561 predominantly Bucks fans, their beloved superstar, known for his gravity-defying acrobatics, was reduced into a harmless jump shooter.

    Gianis and his giant Euro step, stepped on a deadly booby trap.

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    Crisp passing, which leads to wide open looks, and good outside shooting usually kills zone defenses. Unfortunately, the Bucks didn't have that antidote in their medicine kit. They managed only 19 assists and shot just 34.8 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc in Game 1.

    The Bucks will turn to "film session" to figure out how deal with the Celtics D in Game 2. Maybe they should also look at how to stop Boston's offense as well.

    Playing with "freedom and confidence," as Stevens once described his offense in a March 2018 interview with SB Nation, Boston punished the Bucks by shooting 54 percent from the field and 41.9 percent from 3-land.

    Kyrie Irving dissected Milwaukee's defense like a helpless biology frog, slicing it with 26 points and 11 dimes. Al Horford, in a quiet, understated show of brilliance, drilled 20 points and snatched 11 boards.

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    Jayson Tatum went AWOL with only four points, but Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward picked up the slack with a combined 32 points.

    Oddsmakers have pegged the Celtics as plus-250 series underdogs against the minus 300 favored Bucks. Right now, though, Boston appears like the golden bet.

    Too good. Too versatile. Too deep.

    One game doesn't win a seven-game series, but it does offer a clue. And by the early looks of it, the Bucks are facing the potential of a Greek Tragedy.

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    PHOTO: AP
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