“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Sun Tzu and Michael Corleone must have been NBA fans. Because of the nature of basketball, you’re constantly up in your opponent’s face. Offense. Defense. Offense. Defense. It’s a relentless cycle that repeats over and over again, play after play, game after game, season after season.
For Jaylen Brown, this is his relationship with Giannis Antetokounmpo. As Boston’s best defender with the requisite athleticism, size, and speed to keep up with the MVP, he’s often matched up with him on both ends of the floor. After getting unceremoniously eliminated in last year’s second round series and with a rematch on the horizon tomorrow, Brown embraces the challenge, saying, “I guess that chess game kind of starts now.”
“Giannis is a good player, probably one of my favorite players in the league just because of his mindset and mentality alone,” Brown said. “When we get out there and compete, it’s whoever is better that day.”
To his credit, Brown has had many good days against Giannis. Over thirty possessions spanning five regular season games over the last two years, Antetokounmpo has only shot 2-of-8 with Brown as his primary defender. Brown, on the other hand, has made 4-of-8 against Giannis, including some memorable dunks:
More recently, Brown and Antetokounmpo exchanged words in China during Team USA’s 69-53 win over Greece after Giannis’ brother, Thanasis, committed a hard foul against Harrison Barnes in the closing minutes of the blowout.
There’s genuine respect between Brown and Antetokounmpo and certainly Brad Stevens and the Bucks, who many consider the front runners in the Eastern Conference. “They never beat themselves,” Stevens said on Tuesday as the Celtics prepare for a national televised game against Milwaukee on Wednesday night. But Stevens recognizes just how much of a handful Giannis can be. “There’s very few people over the course of time in the NBA that strike fear in you like he does when he’s going full court,” Stevens said.