Even in a loss, Anunoby shines on defence as DPOY calls grow louder

The Raptors lost to the Celtics by six on Monday night, but there was a silver lining. O.G. Anunoby put forth yet another stellar defensive performance, further cementing himself in the Defensive Player of the Year race.

Anunoby, 25, struggled offensively against the Celtics, finishing with just 13 points, on 6 of 14 shooting. However, it was his defence that left a mark on the game. The sixth-year forward racked up the stocks (steals plus blocks), recording three steals and one block. He also contained one-half of Boston’s star tandem, Jaylen Brown, holding him to under his season average in points and suffocating him whenever they were matched up with one another.

OG Anunoby stifles Jaylen Brown

At first glance, Brown, 26, appears to have had a great outing on Monday night versus the Raptors. He stuffed the stat sheet, putting up 22 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists. Upon further review, however, Brown looks to be the latest All-Star to feel the wrath of Toronto’s defensive ace.

Celtics stars, including the reigning NBA DPOY, praised O.G.'s defensive prowess before and after Monday's game. Anunoby showed it on the court, too. (Getty)
Celtics stars, including the reigning NBA DPOY, praised O.G.'s defensive prowess before and after Monday's game. Anunoby showed it on the court, too. (Getty)

Anunoby was Brown’s primary defender for the majority of the game and not only did he hold him to five points under his season average, but relegated him to 9 of 22 from the field and 1 of 6 from three. Furthermore, when Anunoby was the closest defender to Brown, he shot a lackluster 3 of 8.

The only reason Brown didn’t shoot more often with Anunoby defending him was due to the latter being inundated with a plethora of screens both on and off the ball, mitigating the frequency of Brown-Anunoby isolations.

The contest opened up with Anunoby blocking Brown’s shot, perhaps portending the type of night the latter would have from the field.

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Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum praise Anunoby’s defence

When asked about Anunoby’s defence, Smart lauded his fellow defensive stalwart for never giving up on plays. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year went so far as to say that he can envision Anunoby winning the coveted award.

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“OG Anunoby, man, we talk about him a lot,” Smart said during his postgame presser. “That’s a guy you got to watch when he’s on you; when he’s on the court. He’s physical, athletic enough to guard anybody, strong enough to guard anybody. He doesn’t give up and he’s on a team that plays just as hard as he does, so this is a perfect fit.

He’s only going to continue to get better and he’s a great defender, and one day, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in the Defensive Player of the Year race, let alone win it — so I tip my hat off to him as he keeps playing.”

Tatum, who finished with a game-high 31 points, also extolled Anunoby for his DPOY-caliber talent and said that he’s been playing at an All-Star level thus far this season.

“Me and OG played on the same AAU team, St. Louis Eagles for a summer or two,” Tatum said postgame. “He’s a good friend of mine and someone I’m really happy for, just to see how much his game’s developed from when we were 15 years old till now.

“I told him before the game started that I’ll probably see him in Utah for the All-Star game, that’s how well he’s been playing. But I told him he’s not going to play like an All-Star tonight, but he’s a hell of a player and hell of a defender, as well.”

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Anunoby’s stellar defence this season

Coming into the game, Anunoby was averaging 2.3 steals and 0.9 blocks per game, combining for a total of 73 stocks on the season — that put him third in the league, behind Brook Lopez (79) and Anthony Davis (75). However, his defensive prowess transcends basic counting stats, too.

According to BBall Index, there are only eight players that have a greater matchup difficulty rating than Anunoby this season. Furthermore, only 13 players are statistically more versatile on defence than the 25-year-old — meaning, more often than not, Anunoby is guarding the opposing team’s best player, regardless of their position. He is also one of three players who rank Top 20 in both of the aforementioned categories; the other two players are Jimmy Butler and defensive stalwart Patrick Beverley.

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