There is no more watched body part in sports right now than Giannis Antetokounmpo’s left knee, and no bigger question than when — or if — the two-time MVP will play in the NBA Finals.
And the Bucks aren’t saying.
With Game 1 versus Phoenix on Tuesday, players and coaches insist they have no expectations whether the franchise forward would be able to suit up or not.
“I couldn’t tell you, man,” Khris Middleton said. “I expected him to play the next game or come back the day he got injured. He still wasn’t out there, so I couldn’t tell you.”
As of Monday afternoon, the NBA had not released an injury report for the Bucks listing Antetokounmpo’s status. And Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer wouldn’t say whether he expected the Greek Freak to be ready to play.
“No, we’ll continue to update it,” Budenholzer said. “He’s had a good day. He’s making good progress. But I don’t have expectations either way.”
When pressed on what exactly a “good day” consisted of at practice, Budenholzer declined to elaborate.
“He’s done court work again. … He’s making progress and we’ll continue to update,” said Budenholzer, who wouldn’t say exactly what the Greek Freak has been able (or unable) to do, or whether it was more than he had done in his prior workouts.
“I’m just going to leave it,” Budenholzer said. “He did court work. So he’s making progress and we’re pleased that he’s making progress.”
Antetokoumpo saw his Eastern Conference finals cut short with the Game 4 knee injury, but the Bucks won the last two games versus Atlanta without him.
They crashed the boards en masse more often without Antetokounmpo dominating the offensive glass, and Jrue Holiday raised his energy level and consistency to pick up the slack in the Greek Freak’s absence.
“Yeah, just to continue to be aggressive. No letdowns, because the way Giannis plays there are no letdowns. He’s continually going to the basket, being aggressive on both ends of the floor. He brings so much to this team,” Holiday said. “He does so much for us that I feel like losing that would really be hard for us. So just continuing to be aggressive from minute zero to 48.”
The Suns, however, are a different beast.
Antetokounmpo is not only a dominant offensive threat — except at the charity stripe — but also a former defensive player of the year. For a Bucks team that wants to switch, they’ll need his ability to guard everybody from center Deandre Ayton to point guard Chris Paul.
“The pressure they put on the paint has been pretty consistent, even with Giannis [out], but you see a different way of doing it now with Jrue attacking and [Brook] Lopez diving. That’s been something that we have to respect,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “Without Giannis, there seems to be a different way of attacking the paint, and then all of their guys that crash the boards.
“When Giannis is down there with Lopez they’re so big there’s really no room for other guys. Now you’ve got [Pat] Connaughton going, you’ve got P.J. [Tucker] going a ton, [Bobby] Portis is down there. Everybody they bring in pretty much is going to get an offensive rebound. So they haven’t stopped playing the way they want to play; the pressure on the paint has been pretty consistent in the playoffs.”