Milwaukee Bucks: Thon Maker’s Defense Set The Tone In Game 1

Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /
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Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports /

Haunting DeRozan’s Nightmares

DeMar DeRozan finished Game 1 with what looked like an impressive 27-point haul, but his knack for getting to the free throw line effectively masked the struggles he had in scoring from the field.

DeRozan finished the game having shot 7-21 from the field, and it’s remarkable just how significant Maker’s impact was on Toronto’s star wing in just 13:31 of shared floor time.

Watching the game live I felt Maker had been robbed of multiple blocks by the game’s official scorers for plays made against DeRozan, but on a second watch the decisions were good. What it’s important not to lose from that, though, is that the box score not rendering a play a block doesn’t make it any less effective in stopping an opponent from scoring.

On Saturday, Maker illustrated the trouble he can cause opposing teams with his length over and over again.

With the game less than two minutes old, DeRozan found a driving path toward the rim, but Maker stepped over to shadow him. Maker’s length denied DeRozan any real look at a shot, and the result was the Raptor just tossing the ball on to the backboard rather than in the direction of the rim.

Only seconds later, DeRozan comes at him again. With this attempt coming from the left side of the rim instead, Maker’s presence remained equally distracting, even if he didn’t have the help in boxing out Ibaka to finish the possession.

A couple of minutes later, DeRozan sizes up Tony Snell on the wing, cutting across the dribble to find space toward the basket. As he starts his drive, the oncoming Maker prevents him from attempting any kind of floater or fingertip layup attempt.

DeRozan’s goal looks to be to get across the rim for some cover from the shot block, but Maker does an excellent job of closing his space. In the end, under heavy pressure from Maker, DeRozan attempts a quick slam, and stuffs his own attempt on the rim having been denied any real room for elevation.

Although the more obvious defensive plays came from Maker in the second half, in the opening few minutes of the game he managed to sew seeds of doubt into DeRozan’s mind just by virtue of his challenges. DeRozan’s game later came to an end after an emphatic fourth quarter block from Antetokounmpo, which has to combine with Maker’s performance to ensure he’ll be listening for footsteps on every drive for the rest of the series.

The signs of that were already apparent on a third quarter drive that almost becomes even more impressive when you realize that Maker didn’t get a hand on it.

Taking a hand-off from Valanciunas, DeRozan spots a clear run to the rim with Snell somewhat caught up in a screen behind him. As DeRozan passes Snell, the Bucks guard almost resigns himself to two points before Maker rises from behind to try and pin the shot to the board. At full speed, it looks as if the big man succeeded, but in reality he didn’t make it in time.

Remarkably, it didn’t matter. Maker’s presence helped to limit the angles for DeRozan to finish on the glass, and undoubtedly unsettled the 27-year-old on a more basic psychological level too.

Rim protection is about so much more than shot blocking, and it’s a reputation that can only be earned by putting physical gifts or abilities into practice in a real game setting. At this point, you’d have to think Maker has earned Toronto’s respect.