Heading into the fourth quarter of one of the most pivotal games in franchise history, the Toronto Raptors held a six point lead over the Milwaukee Bucks. The Raptors would extend that lead to eleven points by going on a 23-18 run over the final twelve minutes. By examining defensive possessions, we can identify how this was done.
The biggest threat facing the Raptors’ defense was the potential for Giannis Antetokounmpo to find his groove in the fourth quarter after his first three were substandard. In previous games, the Raptors had varying degrees of success containing Antetokounmpo as a pick and roll ball handler, but were quite poor whenever he flipped his roll into a screener. However, in the fourth quarter of Game 4, possessions which directly ended as a result of an Antetokounmpo pick and roll (whether as a screener, ball handler, or combination of the two) only produced five points on eight possessions, or 0.625 points per possession.
The Bucks opened up the quarter by running a play called Hawk Double to initiate Antetokounmpo pick and roll scenarios with Matthew Dellavedova. The play starts with Jason Terry receiving a rip screen from Antetokounmpo at the elbow. Terry proceeds to exit along the baseline, where he will eventually receive a staggered screen on the weak side of the floor. This is done to occupy the weak side defense while Dellavedova and Antetokounmpo engage in a pick and roll.
The Raptors decided they would have Delon Wright trail over the top of the Antetokounmpo screen, while P.J. Tucker dropped back. Antetokounmpo’s length had killed the Raptors in previous games as a lob threat diving to the rim, so they encouraged Serge Ibaka to load up on the strong side of the pick and roll to dissuade the Bucks from passing to Antetokounmpo on the roll. The Bucks did so anyways and Ibaka came away with a nice deflection on the first possession.
The second time the Bucks ran Hawk Double, Wright was able to wedge himself between Dellavedova and the screen, neutering any advantage gained. The Bucks reset and had Antetokounmpo toggle between ball handler and screener in a pick and roll with Dellavedova, but Tucker did a nice job of not getting hung up on the first screen while also dropping back on the second to work in concert with Wright. By doing so, the Raptors stopped Dellavedova from getting too much penetration and forced a tough miss.
The Bucks would go to a variety of non-Hawk Double sets to feature Antetokounmpo in pick and roll scenarios, but the Raptors found similar amounts of success defending those actions as well.
Tucker did a tremendous job of navigating screens when Antetokounmpo utilized ball screens, which was evident when he ducked under a free throw line pick and roll to force Antetokounmpo into an errant jumper. Wright had another good defensive possession when he switched onto Antetokounmpo’s drive to the rim and similarly forced a tough miss. The Raptors only managed to cough up one open look with Antetokounmpo as the ball handler in pick and rolls, and the Bucks made them pay.
DeRozan and Tucker miscommunicated on a coverage (my guess is it was DeRozan’s fault, because they were playing those screens to hedge and duck under when possible, but DeRozan decided to switch) and allowed Snell to get freed for an open three.
With Giannis as a screener in the rest of the quarter, the Raptors had Tucker continue to drop back while the guard trails the ball handler whenever possible, which proved advantageous. Tucker’s positioning when dropped back allowed him to slide and recover in front of Antetokounmpo on the roll, forcing a turnover. Another miscommunication led to the Bucks’ final two points out of Antetokounmpo pick and rolls, as Powell was fooled by Dellavedova when he rejected Antetokounmpo’s screen, allowing him to penetrate into the middle of the floor and get an easy floater
The final clip of Antetokounmpo in a pick and roll scenario in the fourth is the most representative of the Raptors’ early fourth quarter defense, as once again Antetokounmpo and Dellavedova toggled between ball handler and screener, while Tucker and Kyle Lowry defended perfectly. When Antetokounmpo acted as a ball handler, Lowry hedged while Tucker ducked under the screen before recovering, impeding Antetokounmpo’s drive to the rim. When the ball was swung back to Dellavedova, the Raptors coaxed him into driving towards the baseline and away from the middle, as Tucker dropped back and Lowry trailed over the top, forcing a tough running layup miss.
Tucker’s brilliance defending Antetokounmpo hardly stopped in pick and roll scenarios, as he continued to prove effective in isolation as well.
The first possession is just a simple post up where Tucker makes life very difficult for Antetokounmpo. While he does surrender some ground, as he allowed Antetokounmpo to get from the elbow to the outskirt of the restricted area, Tucker moved his feet well and did not foul which forced Antetokounmpo to spin and counter before losing control of the ball.
The second possession comes out of the Bucks’ Corner Offense (which I detailed in my series preview). Antetokounmpo enters the ball to the elbow and continues to set a strong side screen for Snell in the corner. Tucker drops back and tags Snell’s basket cut while DeRozan recovers. As no passing angle presented itself, Khris Middleton triggered the elbow pick and roll/dribble hand off going towards the baseline. Tucker wisely stunted into the lane and sagged off Antetokounmpo to prevent further penetration, which also coaxed Middleton into passing to Antetokounmpo. After recovering back to Antetokounmpo, Tucker continues to play well with his feet by shading towards the baseline help while also beating Antetokounmpo to his spot. Antetokounmpo proceeds to post up Tucker and attempt a rip-through to draw a foul, but Tucker anticipated that maneuver and pulled his hands back, forcing an awkward miss.
Overall, the Milwaukee Bucks took twenty two shots in the fourth quarter and made just seven. They also went to the free throw line four times, which equates to a Free Throw Rate (free throw attempt per field goal attempt — measures frequency of free throws) of just 18%, almost 10% lower than their season average. Possibly the most impactful number is the Raptors forcing the Bucks to turn the ball over seven times.
All in all, the defensive coverages deployed for Antetokounmpo pick and rolls, as both a screener and a ball handler, as well as the individual performance of Tucker, produced a fourth quarter defensive showing where the Raptors surrendered just 18 points on 31 shooting possessions.