Milwaukee, WI

Will Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo Get Stronger as the NBA Finals Continue?

Walter Rhein
Image by Walter Rhein

Nobody in the state of Wisconsin wished to see the Milwaukee Bucks lose the first game of the 2021 NBA finals. The contest was held a the Phoenix Suns Arena on Tuesday, July 6th, with the Suns emerging victorious by a score of 118 to 105.

The bad news is that the Bucks lost, but it’s a long series and there are some positives that fans can take away from the contest.

The biggest positive was the return of Giannis Antetokounmpo after what looked like a season-ending injury in the third quarter of game four in the Eastern Conference Finals. Watching Antetokounmpo's knee buckle, the state of Wisconsin couldn’t help but think that the fluke accident might portend the end of a charmed post-season run.

The injury to Antetokounmpo on Tuesday, June 29th, was a gut check moment. The Bucks rose to the occasion and rallied behind strong performances from Khris Middleton, Bobby Portis, and others to earn its first finals berth since 1974.

Make no mistake, Antetokounmpo’s injury is the type of thing you can’t watch on replay without cringing in sympathetic pain. It didn’t look like the type of thing you could come back from, yet only a week later, Antetokounmpo took the court for the first contest against 36 year old Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns.

Paul played like a man possessed finishing the game with 32 points. Again and again throughout the night, Paul managed to hit clutch baskets just when it felt the Bucks were starting to put something together. There was an urgency to Paul’s game that indicated he’s very aware that he’s in the twilight of his career and chances like this do not come very often.

Antetokounmpo, who is ten years Paul’s junior, had moments where his greatness flashed. However, it was something of a medical miracle that he was on the court at all. In professional sports, athletes aren’t cleared unless they’re ready to play. But it’s important for fans to recognize that at this level of competition, a small handicap can have a magnified effect.

What Antetokounmpo needs is time to heal. The question is, how much stronger will that knee get every day as the series continues?

Throughout the 2021 playoffs, the Bucks have proven to be resilient. They came back against the Brooklyn Nets after dropping the first two games. Similarly, the Atlanta Hawks got the better of the Bucks in the first game of their series.

On Tuesday, against the Phoenix Suns, the shots simply didn’t fall. They made only 9 of 16 free throws versus the 25 of 26 for the Suns. In the NBA, you can’t do much when you’re up against exceptional shooting.

Antetokounmpo finished with 20 points and 17 rebounds. After suffering a devastating injury, there’s a psychological element to returning to action. He played a tremendous game, and as he receives further treatment in preparation for game two, fans of the Milwaukee Bucks can take heart in the fact that the team, as it has done throughout the playoffs, is capable of rising to the occasion.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI

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