It’s endearing when players are humble and unassuming, but sports is entertainment too. Sometimes, you want to see personality – a conviction in their abilities and what their team can do, or a certain attitude that would nicely toe the line between confidence and brashness. It just makes the competition even more interesting.
That’s what Toronto Raptors big man Serge Ibaka threw out in a recent interview, as he sent a nice, little nudge towards the Milwaukee Bucks – something to spice up the rivalry.
What made it great is that while he’s an imposing force on the defensive end, he’s not exactly known to be an in-your-face guy or a trash-talker that would casually throw shots.
“I think we match with them perfectly … Because the way they play, we have size. They have guys like Giannis, and you have to have some bodies … and we have those guys. It’s still going to take an army of guys to stop him, but at least you have somebody he can see.”
“But if he can see a body before the help comes, I think it’s a big, big help for the team. We’ve got OG (Anunoby), we’ve got Pascal (Siakam) is tall enough, and sometimes you’ve got myself, and Marc (Gasol).”
Some would say it’s too bold of a statement, something that will bite you in the end – and it can be true. As you know, the Bucks are among the elites, and probably even in a class of their own. Along with having the potential back-to-back NBA MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, on their side, they also own the number one-ranked record, offense, and defensive rating in the league. Heck, they might even have the most efficient sidekick too – Khris Middleton could soon enter the hallowed 50-40-90 club.
But, then again, Ibaka has a lot of room to talk – no one has forgotten the classic Raptors-Bucks conference finals last year. Ibaka and company climbed out of a 0-2 series deficit by consistently stifling Giannis, which was strong enough to turn it into a backdoor sweep and end Milwaukee’s season.
With Serge’s help in the hounding team defense, Giannis went from 27 PPG on 58 FG% to 20.8 PPG on 43.5 FG% in that last four games, even making him uncharacteristically passive. It still looks decent, but no other team has contained The Greek Freak that consistently.
Sure, the argument for the Bucks now is that Kawhi Leonard is out of the picture, who obviously led the way in that epic comeback. However, we also have to consider how well the Raps have responded to the challenge. The defending champs are second in the East and third overall (46-18), and they are also allowing the fewest points per game (106.5 PAPG) on the season.
For now, it doesn’t matter which side you trust more. You have to recognize that this East rivalry is shaping up to be fun. It’s become one of the most intriguing potential storylines in the playoffs.
The two will clash next on August 11 (Manila time), with Milwaukee hoping to sweep the season series. Don’t let that lead influence you, though. The Bucks also dominated the regular season match-up last year.