Wizards react to ‘special’ block by Daniel Gafford on Giannis Antetokounmpo

Wizards react to 'special' block by Gafford on Giannis originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON — The standards for defending two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo are generally relative for any team tasked with stopping him. It usually takes a collection of players and a mix of defensive schemes, as there is essentially nobody on planet Earth who can match him step-for-step and pound-for-pound.

The Wizards should feel good about how they limited him in their win over the Bucks on Sunday night and he still posted a superhuman stat-line of 29 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block. They can take solace in the fact he shot 12-for-26 from the field, 0-for-4 from three and 5-for-12 from the free throw line.

It took a village to make that happen, but one sequence, in particular, saw a Wizards player match up about as close as one possibly can to Antetokounmpo’s once-in-a-generation athleticism. It was late in the first half, when the other four Bucks players on the floor cleared the runway for Antetokounmpo to isolate Wizards center Daniel Gafford.

Antetokounmpo drove left and got past Gafford ever so slightly, while Gafford’s teammates stayed home on the players they were guarding to prevent an open three, leaving it up to him to finish the play. He recovered and met Antetokounmpo at the rim for one of the most impressive blocks of Gafford’s young career so far.

“Very few people can make that play. We’ve talked at length about his ability to do that. It’s special,” head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said.

Gafford, 23, for at least one play was the equal of the reigning NBA Finals MVP. Antetokounmpo is a certified all-time great at his peak powers and a dominant player in part because of his rare athletic traits. He is used to being either taller, stronger or faster than players who defend him, and sometimes all of the above.

Gafford is listed at 6-foot-10 and 234 pounds, with Antetokounmpo at 6-foot-11 and 242 pounds. And just like Antetokounmpo, Gafford is unusually swift for his size. 

Gafford’s teammate Bradley Beal seems some physical similarities.

“Coach is right because one, not everybody has the same body type as Giannis. He’s a freak. He’s a freak athlete. No pun intended, but his name [‘Greek Freak’] speaks for itself,” Beal said. “But Gaff is a freak, too, Gaff is a freak athlete. He’s got strong legs and a big body. It was kind of big on big, meet at the rim.”

According to NBA tracking data, Gafford held Antetokounmpo to 1-for-4 shooting in Sunday’s win. Montrezl Harrell also had a good night by that measure, holding the five-time All-Star to 1-for-3 from the field. Antetokounmpo went 11-for-19 against the rest of the Wizards.

For Gafford, it was yet another step in his development that felt more like a leap, an Antetokounmpo-sized stride. 

“One thing about me, I really don’t back down from a challenge. Whenever it came to an opportunity where I got switched on him, I wanted to make sure that it was good,” Gafford said.

“I didn’t want him to beat me off the dribble do his one, two and then dunk on me. I didn’t want to be on a highlight tonight. That’s my main thing. Really, just playing big boy defense.”

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