Bucks advance to NBA Finals despite Giannis Antetokounmpo injury
Posted On July 4, 2021
ATLANTA – Giannis Antetokounmpo left the pitch with a gigantic smile.
He wore a 2021 Finals cap with the Milwaukee Bucks logo on it, just like his teammates. But unlike his teammates, he wasn’t in uniform, wearing a black Bucks T-shirt and black sweatpants.
It was a strange juxtaposition.
The Bucks had just won the Eastern Conference Championship and advanced to the NBA Finals with a 118-107 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 on Saturday, and Antetokounmpo did not play. He also missed Game 5, another Bucks win, due to a hypertensive left knee suffered in Game 4.
This has all talked about the past few seasons as to whether he could lead the Bucks to the Finals, and he wasn’t on the pitch in the game that sent the franchise to the Championship Series.
“It’s bittersweet that you can’t play the last two games,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
Injuries have decimated teams and their title dreams this season, from Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers to Mike Conley and the Utah Jazz to James Harden, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets to Jamal Murray and the Denver Nuggets.
Then the Bucks lose Antetokounmpo in Game 4.
“I don’t think anyone felt really good about anything,” Bucks backup guard Pat Connaughton said of the Hawks tying the series at 2-2.
But the Bucks found a way to win two games, and while he didn’t play a second or score a point, Antetokounmpo had an influence on the outcome.
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Antetokounmpo had a place right next to the coaches on the bench. During the timeouts, he spoke to the players who had taken their seats while waiting for Budenholzer to address the team in the huddle. Budenholzer said the referees almost gave Antetokounmpo a late-game warning for going too far down the pitch with the ball in play.
“He’s halfway down the pitch, talking to Bobby (Portis), talking to Brook (Lopez), talking to different players,” Budenholzer said. “To see that kind of leadership, that kind of connection, that kind of commitment from a player you know was dying to be there and play, I just loved his energy on the bench. I just loved his friendliness that he brings to our group. ”
Jrue Holiday, who had another remarkable game in the series with 27 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, said players didn’t need to make a concerted effort to keep Antetokounmpo engaged.
“It’s probably the most I’ve seen Giannis talk about, like the whole game. I usually know when he’s on the ground and he’s running, going through five people, and blocking shots, I mean, you’re tired. He’s tired and he’s playing, ”Holiday said. “But man, he motivates everyone, he motivates me, tells me to step up the pace, tells me to keep being aggressive and tells me to lock people up.
“Again he’s pretty calm, but how great he has been chattering has been for us and very, very encouraging.”
Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton have been in Milwaukee since Antetokounmpo was drafted in 2013 – long before Antetokounmpo became a double MVP and Middleton became an All-Star who can drop 23 points in a quarterback like he did. in the sixth game.
They kissed at the post-game celebration before receiving the conference championship trophy.
“I really would have liked him to be with us,” said Middleton, who scored a high of 32 points. “But he’s still here with us. He’s always a part of it, whether he’s playing or not. I hope he will be back soon, but I think he still enjoys it all. I’m sure or I think he still wishes he was out there playing, but that means everything to him the same way we get to play in the NBA Finals. “
What’s next for Antetokounmpo? Winning two games without your best player is one thing. To win four games in the final without him is another matter.
The Bucks said there was no structural damage to his knee, but they also didn’t say if it was a strain, sprain or bruise.
“Knowing Giannis,” Holiday said, “he’ll probably be back at some point in the series.”
Budenholzer took a more pragmatic approach.
“He and the sports performance team have been together for a long time,” he said. “It’s special to watch their relationship. It’s special to watch the communication, the confidence that he has. You have to listen to the player and then you have to listen to the sports performance group, and at some point (GM) Jon Horst and I are part of the conversations, but it’s just a day-to-day thing. We will update it if necessary. The conversations between him and me and him and the sports performance group are a bit private and we’ll see where he is every day. “