Just like the 2019-20 Boston Celtics, none of Team USA’s five best players in this year's FIBA World Cup are natural bigs. So it was only fitting for the Americans to provide a potential sneak preview of potential small ball life for the Celtics on Saturday morning in the midst of a 69-53 win over Greece in the second round of the tournament.
USA’s toughest opponent (on paper) to date (Greece) featured the reigning NBA MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo (15 points, 13 rebounds). Greg Popovich had a host of bigs on his roster to try to use to contain the Greek Freak (Myles Turner, Miles Plumlee, Brook Lopez) but that trio of centers combined for just 19 minutes in the win. Instead, Pop spent more than half of his game going small in the frontcourt with the likes of Jaylen Brown, Harrison Barnes and even Marcus Smart manning the center spot and spending time guarding Antetokounmpo.
Smart has spent time on countless players with varying size and strength throughout his five-year career but very little has come against the 6-foot-11 Antetokounmpo while playing alongside Al Horford, Aron Baynes and Semi Ojeleye in the past few years. However, after Antetokounmpo scored seven easy points in the opening minutes of the game against Barnes, Smart got the call to matchup with the Bucks big man late in the first quarter and the results were superb for the Americans.
Now, let’s be clear here. Smart had plenty of help in this matchup. The USA offered timely double teams against Antetokounmpo in space and ensured Smart would rarely be on an island against him. Still, the Celtics guard came out the victor in the head-to-head battle in the trenches, using his physicality and IQ to keep Antetokounmpo from getting easy looks. Let's take a closer look at how he did it.
One of the best defensive possessions you’ll ever see from a mismatched guard came in the second quarter.