Giannis Antetokounmpo is making progress in his return from a hyperextended knee as evidenced by Milwaukee upgrading him from doubtful to questionable for Game 1 of the NBA Finals Tuesday night in Phoenix.
The Milwaukee superstar was on the court and went through some drills Monday.
“He’s had a good day,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He’s making good progress. But I don’t have expectations either way.”
Antetokounmpo missed roughly the last 2 1/2 games against Atlanta in the Eastern Conference Finals after sustaining the injury in the third quarter of Game 4. He sat behind the bench during Game 5 but was constantly talking with teammates. When the Bucks clinched the series in Game 6, Antetokounmpo was front and center on the bench, standing most of the game.
“I couldn’t tell you, man,” Middleton said when asked if thought Antetokounmpo would play Tuesday night. “I expected him to play the next game (of the Eastern Conference Finals) or come back the day he got injured. He still wasn’t out there, so I couldn’t tell you.”
The decision to play or sit is not solely up to Antetokounmpo. It will involve Budenholzer and the team’s medical staff.
“Just tell him to do what’s best for himself and his family,” Middleton said of his advice for his teammate. “Don’t rush back in and put yourself at a greater risk for a greater injury. But he’s a guy, like you know, he puts in so much time and effort into his body to be the best version of himself.”
Surprisingly, at least to some outside the building, Milwaukee won both games that Antetokounmpo missed, leaving some to joke they are a better team without him on the floor. That’s not the case but his absence has forced others into bigger roles as the team looks for its first NBA title since 1971.
“Obviously, you’re talking about a guy that puts up 30 points a night. You’re talking about a guy that rebounds the basketball, passes the basketball, defends as well, if not better, than anybody else,” guard Pat Connaughton said. “You’re not going to necessarily replace that with one guy or with one thing.
“The way we’ve tried to make sure we’ve put our best foot forward to have his back while he’s out is doing it together. Obviously, Khris, Jrue (Holiday), Bobby (Portis), there’s been a bunch of guys that have stepped up in his absence, but it’s been a collective group effort. It’s been playing together. It’s been sharing the basketball. It’s been defending as a team and gang rebounding and doing all of the little things that it takes to win a basketball game so that we can try to put ourselves in this position to get to the Finals to give Giannis some more time to get healthy because, without him, we wouldn’t be here.”