The Milwaukee Bucks changed their roster during the off-season to put more star power around two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo
Milwaukee – The Milwaukee Bucks changed their roster during the off-season to put more star power around two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
His championship hopes may now depend on how well those others can do without him.
Antetokounmpo is doubtful for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Thursday after MRIs showed he extended his left knee in the Bucks’ 110-88 game 4 from the Atlanta Hawks.
“Giannis is going to do everything he can to be available,” Bucks coach Mike Buddenholzer said on Wednesday. “We’re going to put their health and safety first and make good decisions together.”
Antetokounmpo’s injury seemed to be severe when he was gripping his knee in apparent pain on Tuesday night. But with the MRI results encouraging for the Bucks’ long-term ambitions, the injury has seriously complicated their hopes of winning the series and reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974.
Bucks and Hawks are tied in two games each.
Bucks forward PJ Tucker said after Game 4, “Whenever you see your best player going down, it’s not great. But it’s an opportunity for someone and everyone to step up. It’s the Eastern Conference Finals. There’s no excuse. No matter who’s playing, not playing. They’ve got the boys out. Everybody’s hurt. Everybody’s got smashed. Everybody’s hurt. You have to fight it and win.”
Milwaukee brought in Jew Holiday during the off-season to form an All-Stars trio with Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. He added more playoff experience by acquiring Tucker before the All-Star break.
The price the Bucks paid for making those moves reduced Milwaukee’s overall depth. The issue became even more apparent once guard Donnett DiVincenzo tore a ligament in his ankle in the first-round series with Miami and ruled him out for the remainder of the postseason.
That depth has been tested before.
Milwaukee went 6–5 in 11 regular-season games that Antetokounmpo had missed. Now the Bucks will have to play again without him in the midst of a lot of bets.
Antetokounmpo averages 28.2 points, 12.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists post-season. If that isn’t available, the Bucks will need Middleton and Holiday to become more consistent.
Middleton scored 20 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Bucks to a Game 3 victory in Atlanta, but he fell 0 for 16 from 3-point range in two defeats to Milwaukee during the series. Holiday scored 23 out of 39 in the first two games of this series and 8 out of 28 in the last two matches.
The Bucks are shooting 30.6% from 3-point range in the playoffs, down from 38.9% in the regular season.
Antetokounmpo’s situation represented a brutal twist of fate for a Bucks team that was taking advantage of other teams’ injuries.
In the Bucks’ 4–3 win over Brooklyn in the second-round series, the Nets did not have either Kyrie Irving for the last three games or James Harden for most of the first four games. When Atlanta’s Trey Young kicked out Game 4 with a bone injury to his right ankle, it appeared the Bucks had got another break.
The Bucks instead blew up on Tuesday and now face the prospect of playing without their biggest star.
Tucker said after Game 4, “As players, you just look at each other and whoever we go out there with, who are we going with and we’re going to go out and fight.” “Like me, all that other stuff goes out the window and it comes down to trying to go out in every play, put it on the line, and go out there and take it because tonight, that’s what Atlanta did.” Did it. He took it.”
The Bucks won’t get much sympathy from the Hawks, who have injury problems of their own.
Young’s position for Game 5 remains uncertain. The Hawks also aren’t sure about the availability of Capella, who elbowed him in the face late in Game 4. D’Andre Hunter is out for the remainder of the post season following knee surgery. Bogdan Bogdanovic is playing with a knee pain and Cam Radish has just returned from an Achilles injury that ruled him out for four months.
“Preparation is really the same thing as preparation for them,” Hawks coach Nate McMillan said. “You don’t just prepare for Giannis. They have a lot of other guys who are productive and can play and they can go. We’re going to continue to prepare for the Bucks as opposed to just one guy.”
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