MILWAUKEE – Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks All-NBA forward, has a severe left knee injury and is a doubt for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday night.
Antetokounmpo is not expected to play and his availability for the remainder of the series is in doubt, although Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said on Wednesday, “Hopefully there is a way we play well with Giannis and without Giannis.”
Even if he plays, he won’t be 100%. “We’re going to manage it both from Giannis’ perspective, from the team’s perspective, and we have to keep moving, getting ready for Game 5,” Budenholzer said.
Can the Bucks win a game or two against the Hawks without their star? Yes, but it won’t be easy and will require great performances from players you expect and contributions from players you might not expect.
“We have a lot of talent, so I thought let them play,” said Budenholzer. “Put them in a comfort level and put them in a comfortable place and let them play basketball, it’s not too complicated. We’ve played games without Giannis, without Khris (Middleton), without Jrue (Holidays), without anyone, and hopefully you have a structure and a system where you can function at a high level at both ends of the pitch. no matter who plays.”
The Bucks increased their roster with the addition of Holiday and PJ Tucker, but their rotation was even shorter as Donte DiVincenzo, their starting keeper, was sidelined following season-ending surgery on June 8 to repair a torn ankle ligament.
Middleton and Holiday took on a bigger responsibility, and they could afford it. Middleton tied a career playoff high with 38 points in Game 3, and Holiday had 33 points and 10 assists in Game 1 and he is averaging 20 points and 9.5 assists in the series. However, Middleton and Holiday were a combined 12-for-34 from the field in Atlanta’s Game 4 win.
In the match Antetokounmpo missed this season. Middleton’s numbers did not differ dramatically, but Holiday’s use rate, scoring and shooting attempts improved.
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“He just had to make good decisions,” Budenholzer said of Holiday. “Playing good basketball. He might have to score. But I think when he breaks through and paints, good things happen for the team, good things happen for him. Game 1, has 33 (points), and lots of assists, and he’s very, very capable. That’s the thing that gives you a lot of confidence is a lot of really good players, a lot of people who have the confidence and skill that can be themselves.”
If Antetokounmpo can’t leave, Budenholzer hasn’t picked a starter – it could be Bobby Portis, Pat Connaughton or to keep his bench rotation normal he could play Giannis’ brother Thanasis Antetokounmpo.
“We beat him, talked about him as a coaching staff, and there’s a different direction you can go and then how it affects you for 48 minutes,” Budenholzer said. “So you know, at some point, you have to pull the trigger and make a decision. You know, we’re probably going to do that and then we’re probably going to tell you we don’t know who we’re playing and planning to start and all that stuff, and then on a tip-off or whatever, you guys will get it. It’s kind of a normal routine.”
The Bucks can take inspiration from the Hawks, who just won their starless game in Game 4. Trae Young missed the game with a bone bruise on his right leg.
The Bucks are leading 6-5 in a game that Antetokounmpo has missed this season.
“For the last three years, this has been a normal NBA,” Budenholzer said. “You play a game without certain players, and I think it’s an important game and it’s important to learn and take advantage of it.
“For sure I think (Thursday), unconsciously or consciously, I think we will all know. We played without Giannis, and I think there’s even a good stretch when Giannis (plays but) isn’t on the pitch – we can keep and defend or build up the lead and stuff like that. Everything I thought you described. ”
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.