“I doubt anybody is going to guard (Blake Griffin) any better than that one-on-one,” Scott Skiles said of Luc Mbah a Moute after Milwaukee’s 102-78 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers Monday night.
This wasn’t Mbah a Moute’s first great defensive game though, and it likely won’t be his last. But even on the nights in which he isn’t matching up with the league’s finest, it’s easy to see how and why Mbah a Moute shines at shutting down players much larger than him.
Allow me to take you back to the New Jersey Nets visit to Milwaukee on January 29th
It wasn’t much of a statistical game for the Bucks backup forward, it was more his presence. New Jersey’s burly power forward Kris Humphries spent the majority of the evening attempting to bully Mbah a Moute. He pushed, but Mbah a Moute would push back. Humphries would throw a forearm, and catch one right back. The night culminated in the two of them getting so tangled up that they crashed to the ground under the Bucks hoop while tangling over rebounding position.
After the game, Mbah a Moute was very precise with his wording.
“I never let anybody out-tough or out-work me.”
Apparently not even Blake Griffin.
Mbah a Moute’s hands were full again on Monday night and his toughness and work ethic were on display again. The Clippers star rookie came into Monday night’s came averaging 22.7 and 12.7 on 51% shooting. Against a Bucks team that lost Ersan Ilyasova just two minutes in, he could easily have eclipsed those numbers. But Mbah a Moute did his best to prevent that. Griffin finished with 19 and 12, but was just seven of 19 from the field.
Specifically, Mbah a Moute was able to thwart that famous Griffin spin move on a couple of occasions, poking it away before Griffin could get past him and to the hoop for one of his highlight reel jams that have so often come off spins.
“He got me a couple times too,” Mbah a Moute said. “Once he got me, I kind of knew what to do. He does it so well, that it’s hard. I kind of do a good job of reading where he’s going, knowing his moves, stuff like that.”
Anticipation and instincts were the words of the night when Mbah a Moute’s defense was a topic. All of the athleticism and studying in the world can make a player a good defender, but sometimes it’s the things we can’t measure that put a player over the edge and turn him into a great defender. Coach Skiles certainly seems to think that’s the difference for Mbah a Moute.
“Luc has a knack laterally that a lot of people don’t have,” Skiles said. “I doubt if you put him in some sort of lateral race with people he’d win too many of them, but he anticipates, he’s in a stance and he’s got enough thickness to his body that he can guard people like that.”
When combined with the right preparation and film study, those instincts are what Mbah a Moute himself believes gives him an edge as well.
“It’s knowing what kind of player he is, what he does and it’s also instincts,” he said. “A lot of times a guy can spin or do a certain move, you try to prepare for it but he does it so well that it’s hard. But when you have good instincts, you’re able to do well.”
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).