LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP)Giannis Antetokounmpo wanted to play.
The Milwaukee Bucks saved the reigning NBA MVP from himself.
Antetokounmpo was held out of Game 5 of Milwaukee’s Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Miami Heat Tuesday night because of a sprained right ankle – and the Bucks’ season came to an end, falling 103-94.
Miami won the series 4-1.
”I kind of feel lost, to be honest with you,” Antetokounmpo said. ”If it’s up to me, I’d play with one leg. I really don’t care. But at the end of the day, we have people on the team … who have to protect my health no matter what.”
The Bucks didn’t even give Antetokounmpo a chance to be tempted, listing him as inactive.
They indicated multiple times Monday and Tuesday that the long-term risks were under serious consideration. If Antetokounmpo played on a bad ankle and hurt it worse, it could have had serious effects – and the Bucks, even with their season on the line, were not willing to take that risk.
”We couldn’t let Giannis go out there,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. ”He’s not ready. He’s not healthy. We can’t put him at risk. Giannis would always play. He wants to be there for his teammates. Really, really hard for Giannis. I think it was pretty clear from everybody’s – probably except for his – perspective, what needed to happen.”
Antetokounmpo clearly tried to get himself ready for Game 5. He was on the court about two hours before game time, getting some shots up, then did more strength and flexibility work with a member of the Bucks’ staff. Budenholzer watched the on-court session closely, before the team made the final decision.
”It’s just always good to see it with your eyes,” Budenholzer said.
Antetokounmpo sprained the ankle in the first quarter of Game 3, then played his usual minutes the rest of the way. He turned the same ankle the same way – inward – early in the second quarter of Game 4 and could not return.
The Bucks lost Game 3 with Antetokounmpo, then found a way to win Game 4 in overtime even after playing the final 40 of the game’s 53 minutes without their leading scorer and rebounder.
Antetokounmpo had started all 43 of Milwaukee’s postseason games since he joined the franchise as the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA draft. The last time the Bucks played a playoff contest without Antetokounmpo was April 28, 2013 – when they were swept out of the first round by the Heat.
Antetokounmpo got plenty of treatment between games, but Budenholzer indicated Monday that the team would weigh the short-term benefit of him playing Tuesday against the long-term risk.
”We have such a great sports and performance staff and just a high, high level of trust that they understand the big picture,” Budenholzer said. ”They’ve been a part of all the decisions in the past and obviously going forward, and the trust level with them, the communication between them and Giannis … sometimes you have to protect him.”
Antetokounmpo is widely expected to win the MVP award for a second consecutive season after averaging 29.5 points, 13.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists. And he is obviously a huge part of Milwaukee’s plans going forward.
It was almost exactly a year ago – Sept. 12, 2019 – when the Bucks held a preseason Town Hall meeting for fans, and one of them asked the panel that included Milwaukee general manager Jon Horst what the situation was with Antetokounmpo’s long-term contract.
”Of course, he’ll be offered a supermax extension,” Horst said.
The Bucks can make that move when free agency begins, possibly as early as mid-October.
Such a deal would kick in for the 2021-22 season, and the mathematics before the pandemic hit said it would have been worth around $247 million. If the salary cap going forward takes a hit because of the amount of revenue the league and its teams lost this season, so would the total value of Antetokounmpo’s next deal – though, by any measure, he’ll be set for life.
He’s under contract for $27.5 million next season.
”At the end of the day, the organization put my health over Game 5,” Antetokounmpo said. ”That’s big.”
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