ATLANTA — Giannis Antetokounmpo walked off the court with a gigantic smile. Like his teammates, he wore a 2021logo. But unlike his teammates, he wasn’t in uniform, Bucks T-shirt and black cutoff sweatpants. It was a strange juxtaposition. On Saturday, the Bucks had just won the Eastern Conference championship and advanced to the with a 118-107 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6, and Antetokounmpo didn’t play.
He also5, another Bucks victory, due to a hyperextended left knee sustained in Game 4. All this talk the past few seasons about whether he can lead the Bucks to the Finals, and he wasn’t on the court in the game that sent the franchise to the championship series. “There’s a bittersweetness to him not being able to play these last two games,” Bucks Budenholzer said. Injuries 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 to Jamal Murray and the Denver Nuggets. Then, the in Game 4. “I don’t think anybody was all that great about anything,” Bucks backup guard Pat Connaughton said about the Hawks tying the series at 2-2. But the Bucks found a way to , and though he didn’t play a second or score a point, Antetokounmpo influenced the outcome.
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Antetokounmpo had ato the coaches on the bench. During timeouts, he talked to players who had taken seats while waiting for Budenholzer to address the team in the huddle. Budenholzer said the referees almost gave Antetokounmpo a warning for being too far on the court while the ball was in the play. “He’s halfway on the court, 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 would be dying to be out there and playing, I just loved his energy on the bench. I just loved the to our group.”
Jrue Holiday, who had another standout 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. “This is probably the most I’ve seen Gianni talk, like the whole game. “But man, he’s motivating everybody; he’s motivating me, telling me to push the pace, keep being aggressive, and lock people up. I usually know you’re tired when he’s on the court, running,shots. He’s tired, and he’s playing,” Holiday said. “Again, he is pretty quiet, but how talkative he’s been has been awesome for us and very encouraging.”
Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton have been in Milwaukee since Antetokounmpo was drafted in 2013 – long before Antetokounmpo turned into a two-time MVP and Middleton developed into an All-Star who can drop 23 points in a quarter as he did in Game 6.embraced in the postgame celebration before they were awarded the conference championship trophy. “Wish he was out there with us,” said Middleton, who scored 32 points. “But he’s still here with us. Whether he’s playing or not, he’s still a part of it. I hope he’s back out there soon, but he still appreciates everything. I’m sure he still wishes he was out there playing, but it to him the same amount that we have a chance to play in the NBA Finals.”
What’s next for Antetokounmpo? Winning two sports performance team have been together long,” he said. “It’s special to watch their relationship. It’s special to watch the communication and the trust 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 (general manager) Jon Horst and I are part of the conversations, but it’s just an everyday thing. We’ll update it when appropriate. The conversations between him and me and the sports performance group are private, and we’ll see where he is each day.”. Winning four games in the Finals without him is a different matter. The Bucks said there was no structural damage to his knee, but they also didn’t tell 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