Giannis Wall: the man who set the ground for Antetokounmpo's elimination

Donatas Urbonas
Senior Staff Writer
2022-09-15 12:05

Germany's national team managed to contain Greece and Giannis Antetokounmpo behind the Czech Republic head coach Ronen Ginzburg's plan. A 58-year-old coach explained the way to stop one of the best players in the world.

Credit: FIBA
Credit FIBA

The Berlin Wall is one of the top sights to see in the German capital. But another wall in Berlin became recognizable after a wild EuroBasket 2022 night that sent the generational NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo home.

The Giannis Wall was a big story in the US before Giannis Antetokounmpo found his way to the NBA championship in 2021.

But the walls in FIBA basketball are even thinner. It was smartly designed by the Czech Republic head coach Ronen Ginzburg and improved by Germans scoring talent.

Although it was a high-scoring game and Itoudis had many complaints over the defense vs. Germany, the Greeks got stuck offensively.

They scored only ten third-quarter points, including a first field goal with less than 3 minutes to play, and couldn't keep up with the Germans. Hosts won the 10-minute stretch 26-10.

That is where the Czech Republic plan did its part.

"We saw the way the Czech played against Greece," German guard Maodo Lo explained how they prepared for the game against Giannis after the quarterfinal win vs. Greece.

"They built the wall with three players at the time. They had Dorsey and other players able to shoot threes, but I think this was a priority to try to copy the way the Czechs played, always building the wall with the help of at least 3 or 4 defenders."

Two nights ago, the Czech Republic did something that stuck in Germany's national team head coach Gordon Herbert's mind. A tight defense focused on Giannis Antetokounmpo contained him to only 4 points in the first half.

The Bucks star put up a 27-point performance., but the Czech Republic stayed in the game and was ahead with 8 minutes to play.

It was one of many exciting plans by 58-year-old head coach Ronen Ginzburg.

He already had some remarkable campaigns with his national team in the previous years. In FIBA World Cup 2019, the Czech Republic finished 6th, ahead of Team USA. They went through Turkey and Greece in the Olympics qualifiers last summer and made it to Tokyo.

This year, the Czechs were eliminated in the Round of 16, but for one of the EuroBasket title contenders, having one of the best players in the world, it took a long time to figure out how to beat this team.

It was mainly due to Ginzburg's plan.

Credit FIBA

When the coach did the scouting for the Greece game, he rewatched his game vs. the Greeks from the 2019 World Cup.

Three years ago, they played Greece in the last game of the second stage. The Greeks had to win at least by 12 points to advance. However, Giannis was fouled out with 5 minutes to play, Greece won by 7 (84-77), and the Czechs surprisingly went to the quarterfinals.

Giannis was limited to 12 points (4/9 FG), 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 turnovers in 28 minutes.

"We played similar, but we didn't call it a wall then," Ginzburg explained.

The coach explained the plan to his players: "Every time Giannis gets the ball in transition or man-to-man offense, we need to send three players around him all the time."

Just this time, Ginzburg decided to make this wall even thinner.

"When I watched our game from 2019, I decided to make it even more like a wall," the coach admitted.

"On the fast break, everybody needs to go down. We decided that the other big man would always be behind our defender when Giannis gets the ball. It means it will be a wall. He will get another big man if he goes through the first defender. Another two players will also be to help if he faces the basket. If he's not playing face to the basket, the second big man is inside, and the others are also looking at the paint," Ginzburg explained.

There is no defensive 3-second violation in FIBA basketball, so it made this wall even stronger than in the NBA.

Every time Giannis had the ball in the half-court offense and tried to penetrate, he literally faced 3-4 opponents.

Credit FIBA

The defensive wall started from the offense. The coach was aware that Greece leads the EuroBasket in fastbreak possessions (17 per game) and transition points (23.4 points per game).

So Ginzburg wanted his players to be patient. He ordered to run long possessions and attack the ball with only around 3-4 seconds left on the shot clock.

"When we penetrated, even if it looked we could finish, I preferred losing the ball out of bounds than getting blocked and them starting running," he added. "We allowed too many points from this in the second half."

According to Ginzburg, Itoudis also made some lineup adjustments with more shooters on the court after halftime.

First of all, he put Giannis as the center. Kostas Sloukas, Tyler Dorsey, Giannoulis Larentzakis, Ioannis Papapetrou, or Kostas Papanikolaou were constantly around him.

Ginzburg emphasized Larentzakis and Papapetrou, who made essential 3-pointers. 

"Some were lucky shots," he added. 

He wanted to force Greece to shoot more 3-pointers than 2-pointers. The Greeks finished with 12 of 29 (31%).

Also, Giannis started to pass the ball more. He also hit two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. That's the risk Czechs took. They were ready to allow Giannis to score 20-25 points. But they wanted him to take "their shots."

Antetokounmpo finished the game on 8 of 17 shooting, including 2 of 8 beyond the arc.

"Of course, we took risks with his outside shot. But we decided we could leave him there," Ginzburg commented. "In the second half, he started passing the ball more. He also started making shots."

"In the end, I think we lost the game due to our offensive mistakes. 2-3 times we got blocked, and they went on a fast break," Ginzburg added.

"Plan was good. Like the surgery was going great, but the patient still died," Ginzburg smiled.

Credit FIBA

Antetokounmpo also scored 9 points from the free throw line. Some of the calls weren't after physical plays, though.

Also, Ginzburg thinks the refs missed a couple of charges that could have put Giannis on the bench in the first half.

"Two times we took charge, but nobody whistled an offensive foul. I don't say we lost because of it. We lost to a good team and a good coach. But it might have impacted the second half. For example, in 2019, Giannis got five fouls because we took 2-3 charges. And they called it," Ginzburg said.

However, he noticed that the biggest EuroBasket superstars got a different treatment.

"Of course," Ginzburg said when asked if star players like Giannis, Luka Doncic, or Nikola Jokic got different calls.

"But I don't think it comes from the top. I just think referees gave a lot of respect to the stars. For example, with Jokic in the group stage, he pushed people away like in judo, but they called nothing. I think they gave a little more respect to the stars like Luka, Giannis, and Jokic. Also, Markkanen a little bit," Ginzburg said.

"But I just think it came out of respect, not some conspiracy theory from the top, that they need to be protected," he emphasized.

Ginzburg is not surprised Germany managed to improve from where the Czechs started.

The hosts were also boosted by a terrific shooting night, which stopped any possibility for Greece to play in transition.

Germans were 17 of 31 (55%) beyond the arc. They went on fire from the jump, hitting 8 of 12 in the first quarter.

Germany scored 107 points putting up the second-highest scoring performance by the EuroBasket 2022 team in 40 minutes.

"We had evident limitations, while Germany has a lot of talent and offensive potential," he added.

Meanwhile, for Greeks, the outside shots were not falling in. Although Greece went for an incredible 61-point halftime show, they were only 9 of 29 (31%) from the outside.

Ginzburg had a pretty clear idea when asked how Greece should build around generational talent like Giannis Antetokounmpo.

"Theoretically, every time they have five players on the floor, they have only 2 or 3 dangerous outside shooters. For example, Calathes is not very dangerous. Dorsey is dangerous. Position 3? So so. Position four? Not dangerous. So you take risks," Ginzburg analyzed.

"Of course, it's about taking risks. But at the same time, maybe they're forced to play many minutes with only 2 or 3 players that can spread the floor," the coach added.

"Listen, the Greece team has excellent players around Giannis. Maybe their weakness is outside shooting."

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