Friends to foes, Maker ready for another crack at Antetokounmpo

MILWAUKEE, WI - It didn't take too long for Thon Maker to realise that taking on the NBA's likely MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, during a playoff game was a different kettle of fish compared to facing him during a practice session.

Antetokounmpo was at his destructive best from the opening tip in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference playoff series, drawing two fouls on Maker within the first 74 seconds of tip-off. The ominous start was a tale of things to come for Maker and the Pistons, as Antetokounmpo went on to finish with 24 points and 17 rebounds in just 23 minutes of court time and the Bucks surged to a 35-point win - the third-largest in the franchise's playoff history.

Going against each other on the practice court was common place for the two close friends -- before Maker's trade to Detroit in early February -- though playing pick-up ball in the practice facility is a far cry from an NBA playoff game, where the officiating tends to be not so lenient.

"That's the tough part, because in practice you call your own fouls and most of the time those type of fouls you get away with," Maker said post-game.

"That's part of the game, because you have to learn to play through those fouls. But in the playoffs, I was surprised with some of the calls but at the same time I have to be aware and adjust to it. Maybe lower the intensity a little bit, instead of being too overly aggressive.

"Other than that, I thought I was doing a good job, just the hand part in terms of the fouls needs to be better. I'll go back, watch film and see where I can make the adjustment."

Antetokounmpo's dominant performance was proof that once the ball is tipped, friendships are forgotten. But coming up against his friend for the first time as opponents still felt strange for the three-time All-Star.

"Of course, it feels weird. Thon is my little brother, I knew him since he came into the league, we've been friends but at the end of the day I know he's a competitor, I know he's going to do whatever it takes to help his team win," Antetokounmpo said.

"Obviously, Thon is a great player, a great defender - I was just trying to make play.

"I was able to get to the free-throw line, get an easy lay-up or find my teammate; but like I said I was just trying to be aggressive and start the game being aggressive. I knew if I was in that aggressive mode the whole game good things would happen."

"I think both of us did a great job of playing hard and doing our job and not seeing this game as a time to reunite our friendship."

While Maker had his hands full trying to curtail Antetokounmpo's influence, he also had to combat a hostile crowd that, until his move to the Pistons, used to cheer him on at every opportunity. Maker appeared to be enemy No. 1 during his return to Milwaukee, the birthplace of 'Playoff Thon', and the city where his NBA career began.

Afterwards, Maker, who loves to feed off a crowd's energy, put a positive spin on the reaction, though it was clear by his facial expression that he was genuinely shocked by the boos.

"To be honest with you I was surprised, and my guys were asking me, 'why are they booing you?' and I had no answer for that," Maker said. "I do like that better than being cheered for though because mentally you want to get extra motivation instead of having the love, and maybe there could have been too much love, so they are just balancing it out. But hey, I have love for that crowd, but I guess they didn't for me."

Unlike the raucous Philadelphia 76ers crowd that showered Ben Simmons' squad with jeers a day earlier, the Bucks fanbase was in raptures throughout, as Milwaukee obliterated the Pistons from start to finish.

Maker would end the night with four points on 2-for-10 shooting from the field; his typical positive spirit remained, despite the brutal beat down.

"This one you just throw it away," he said. "The one thing I learned from the playoffs is that the series don't start until one team steals one from the other person's place.

"We've always said this to ourselves even when I was with the Bucks - 'you just got to keep on playing'. Go away, watch film, make better reads and just mentally scrap this game, get ready for the next one. The series don't start until somebody steals one."

With two days off before Game 2, the Pistons flew back to Detroit with plenty of thinking to do.

The No. 1 question: How do you slow down Antetokounmpo?