First there were the Jordan Rules. Then it was Hack-a-Shaq. Now it’s the Giannis Wall.
It’s the sincerest form of flattery, a whole scheme dedicated to slowing Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee’s unstoppable force. The Suns’ ability to keep it standing — from Wednesday’s Game 4 of the NBA Finals on — may determine if they or Antetokounmpo and his Bucks will win the title.
“You have to take it as a compliment. You always have to find the fun factor in everything. … So, yeah, it is a compliment that there’s got to be three people in front stopping me from getting in the paint and building that wall. But, yeah, I hate it, though,” Antetokuunmpo said with a laugh. “I’m not going to lie, I hate it. But at the end of the day, you got to figure out a way to play through it.”
Play through it, and also find the balance between barreling through it and passing out of it.
If Antetokounmpo can warp it with his gravity and find open teammates — as he did Sunday — he could lead the Bucks to a Game 4 win and even the series at 2-all.
“Once I started seeing the wall two years ago, now it’s about trust,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s kind of hard, because you want to be effective, you want to get downhill, you want to do everything. But now … you take it personal, also. There’s a team that’s building the wall of three people and two guys behind and trying to stop you.
“Now you have to not take it personal and make the right play, find the right guy. I feel like I did that better since two years ago now. I’m doing it better. I’m finding, I’m trusting my teammates. I’m finding guys. … It’s funny that there’s a defense out there called the Giannis Wall. It’s funny to me, you know? So it’s crazy.”
But it’s not so crazy after Antetokounmpo has been so athletically dominant that he won back-to-back MVPs despite a clanky jumper and shaky free-throw shooting.
The Greek Freak had 23 combined baskets within six feet of the hoop in Games 2 and 3. It’s easy to see the importance of the wall in Game 4.
“We’re going to keep trying to build a wall,” Suns All-Star guard Chris Paul said. “He’s coming full speed every play, like a running back coming downhill.”
And he’s a lot more Jim Brown or Bo Jackson than Barry Sanders.
Meanwhile, the Suns must strike a balance between focusing on Antetokounmpo and not leaving the likes of Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday wide open.
“Yeah, it’s not delicate at all. It’s a hard truth that you have to do both. You have to be able to show a wall, but also have the integrity of your defense intact on the other side,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “You have to do both. There’s no in-between with this team. When you can do both, you can have success.”
They had little success against him the past two games. Antetokounmpo scored 74 of his 83 combined points in Games 2 and 3 either in the paint or from the charity stripe. It’s clear why the Suns are more focused on winning than on debates about his skill level.
“He’s a two-time MVP. Regardless of how he scores, he does it,” Paul said with a shrug. “He comes down there, he dunks, he dunks some more and he shoots a layup. So, it is what it is. You got to figure out a way to stop him.”
They’d settle for slowing him. He had 17 free-throw attempts in Game 3, more than the Suns took as a team. Williams pointed out the disparity — though he took umbrage with the suggestion that he was complaining.
“They had one player with 17 free throws, we had 16,” Williams said, bristling. “That’s not complaining, that’s stating facts.”
For his part, the Greek Freak said he earned them all the old-fashioned way: He got hacked.
“I take a pretty good beating down there,” Antetokounmpo said with a laugh. “I have a scratch right here and scratch right here. So they’re making my pretty face ugly.”
Phoenix will look to stop him by any means necessary.
“People talk about creating a wall defense to stop his ability to drive to the basket,” former 76ers scout Michael VandeGarde told The Post. “That’s team defense, and elite effort getting back.”
The Suns will need both Wednesday.