Roughly eight hours before Game 1 of the NBA Finals was for the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday, Giannis Antetokounmpo knew something everyone else didn’t know: He would be in the starting lineup for the Milwaukee Bucks.
“It felt great,” said Antetokounmpo, who missed the last two games of the Eastern Conference final due to a hyperextended left knee. “Out there I had my balance. I felt that my knee was stable. I did not feel pain. I felt good. “
Unlike his teammates who joked that they had seen video of the play where he was hurt against the Atlanta Hawks hundreds of times, Antetokounmpo said he has yet to see the highlights.
“When the play happened, I thought I would be out for a year,” he said. . “.. I’m participating right now, that’s the important thing. At the end of the day, you have to find the positives in everything you do in order to move forward. “
In a dramatic comeback that marks the end of a six-day recovery, an aggressive Antetokounmpo played 35 minutes Tuesday and scored 20 points and 17 rebounds in a 118-105 loss to Milwaukee.
Antetokounmpo and the Bucks nearly fainted in the third quarter, for stretches that seemed exhausted as the Suns raced for a lead that grew to 20 points.
“I think Giannis played well. When you stay out of (several) games, it might be a little difficult to get to the Finals and put on the show, ”Bucks guard Jrue Holiday said, adding that Antetokounmpo held target practice earlier in the day. as if planning to start.
– Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) July 7, 2021
Limited to non-aerobic exercise last week, Antetokounmpo might have little stamina for another game or more. How you feel physically on Wednesday potentially becomes the new life story for Game 2 on Thursday.
“He was acquitted. I wanted to go. They were all on the same page, ”said Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer. “I thought there were a lot of good things considering what has happened these last five, six, seven days. Usually he has been playing it. He’s a rhythm boy. He always improves when he plays. “
Budenholzer said the Bucks laid out a plan for Antetokounmpo before the game. It did not include playing more than 35 minutes. Antetokounmpo said he spent 24 hours a day concentrating on his knee with pool sessions, treatment, elevation and ice and swelling reduction.
The Bucks traded with Antetokounmpo’s feedback and a decision at halftime to use him more at the “5” with a small lineup to take on Phoenix’s lineup of defenders and wings.
Antetokounmpo continues to trust the Bucks, who also lost the first game of the Eastern Conference finals and are 1-5 in their last six games of the playoff series.
The Greek Freak on his Finals debut:
20 pts | 17 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLACK pic.twitter.com/w7sKKYgI49
– Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) July 7, 2021
“I’ll say one more time, my knee felt good,” Antetokounmpo said. “You don’t know what is going to happen. I’m happy to be out there, participating in my first NBA Finals. At the end of the day, I’m out there. I feel good. I feel no pain I can run, I can jump. I’m good. I’m happy. “
Listed as doubtful entering Tuesday’s pregame, Antetokounmpo was upgraded to questionable eight hours before kickoff at the first sign that the former consecutive MVP would be on the court in the first game of the best-of-seven series.
Two hours before the game, Antetokounmpo worked first on the touchline in front of the coaches with a white compression sleeve that stretched from the lower quadriceps to the upper calf. He shuffled his feet in all directions, testing the qualities of the pogo stick on his left leg, then played and dribbled from left to right, forward and backward.
The 6-foot-11-inch, 245-pound player nodded and smiled as he joined his teammates, another clear sign that all systems are working.
All of the “Freak” traits were on display on Tuesday.
Antetokounmpo edged out Phoenix forward Jae Crowder with a lightning first step and sailed through the air for a dunk in the first quarter. He didn’t hesitate to attack a double team on the next possession, butting into the lane with an assist without looking at Pat Connaughton.
After finishing a dunk on Suns center DeAndre Ayton, showing no signs of concern about his landing gear or a pinched left knee, skied from inside the free throw line for a defensive rebound at the other end. , his fourth in the first quarter, catching the ball over three collapsing Suns.
In an astonishing defensive recovery in the second quarter, Antetokounmpo recovered 15 feet in two massive strides as he followed Suns forward Mikal Bridges through the lane. When Bridges rose to a layup with his right hand on the right side of the rim, he evaded Khris Middleton only to see Antetokounmpo jump off his left leg to the rim, crashing to erase the shot and maintain the Bucks’ half-time deficit. in eight, 57-49.
“I think he looked pretty good tonight, he looked like his normal self: jumping, running, running,” Middleton said.
“We know he’s giving it his all … He found a way to get over it. I don’t think it’s completely 100 percent, but it’s close to that. “
Antetokounmpo, 26, was acclaimed by his teammates, coaches and trainers for his “prehab” workout routine that helped him recover quickly.
“It’s pretty amazing what he’s been able to do in the last five or six days,” Budenholzer said. “He has worked hard with our athletic performance team. He’s in a good place. ”
The Bucks opened the game with a set play lob pass to Antetokounmpo. It did not go down, but the statement was delivered for what appears to be intended to be an extended series.
“I can’t predict the future,” Antetokounmpo said. “I could wake up tomorrow with a swollen knee. Hopefully the second game suits me better. “
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