MILWAUKEE --What would Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer be thankful for? Well, as far as basketball goes, a little more protection for his star player -- and, frankly, any player who may be the recipient of a hard foul.
Giannis Antetokounmpo was on the receiving end of a Flagrant 1 from Joel Embiid in the team's last game on Nov. 18, and on Monday night against the Portland Trail Blazers he was once again the victim of some hard contact.
Budenholzer, who rarely strays outside the lines, made his feelings clear. "You guys have pool reporters, you can ask again," he said. "The shot the other night in Philly was a significant shot, they don't upgrade that. I just think sometimes the hits that Giannis is taking, the league needs to look at, the league needs to protect him. It's not just him, anybody takes those hits, the league needs to protect players."
Rewind to the third quarter of Monday's game. Portland's Shaedon Sharpe made a sweeping, acrobatic drive to the rim only for his layup to spin around and out. Antetokounmpo grabbed the rebound and took off the other way, charging full steam ahead into a wall of defenders.
As he tried to step around Jerami Grant, the veteran reached out and essentially clothslined Antetokounmpo, sending him crashing to the floor -- though not intentionally. While falling, Antetokounmpo was grabbed awkwardly around the neck by Justise Winslow in an attempt to hold him up that went awry.
The referees went to the monitor to review the play, but decided to stick with a common foul, a decision Budenholzer disagreed with following his team's 119-111 win.
"So live it definitely looked like they wrapped him up, they went above his head, they hit him across the forehead," Budenholzer said. "Live, it looked like a flagrant foul. Even though it's going to the other end of the court, live and as it happened I don't see how that's not a flagrant one. If the arena showed replays I didn't see the replays and I haven't seen any replays since. But when you go high, above the shoulder and wrap someone up -- looked like a non-basketball play, looked like a clear flagrant."
Budenholzer did not have the benefit of replay and when viewed from the alternate baseline angle the foul is perhaps more awkward than flagrant, though if it had been upgraded it would be hard for anyone on the Blazers to complain.
In any case, Budenholzer seemed more upset about how his star has been officiated in recent games in general than about that specific play.
The incident in Philadelphia that Budenholzer referenced was Embiid's flagrant foul on Antetokounmpo during the Bucks' loss to the 76ers on Nov. 18. In the third quarter of that game, Embiid delivered a shoulder check to Antetokounmpo's midsection and was given a flagrant one, but was allowed to stay in the game after the officials decided not to upgrade the foul to a Flagrant 2. Of course, that collison was overshadowed by the ladder incident.
When asked about the punishment he's been taking in recent games, Antetokounmpo, who finished with 37 points, seven rebounds and six assists, declined to get into specifics and did not criticize any players or officials.
"I feel no pain, I feel great," Antetokounmpo said. "I've been taking a lot of hard hits, but I always fall down and get up. At the end of the day it's basketball. I've said it multiple times, I enjoy physicality, I enjoy putting my body on the line. It puts a fire under my belly, it wakes me up. Not a lot of people enjoy getting hit, and at the end of the day obviously you want to have a game that you can get hit the least. But when I get hit I kind of enjoy it, I feel like I'm part of the game, I'm in the game, I'm locked in, I'm making plays, I'm being aggressive, I'm getting downhill, making plays for my teammates. It's part of my game, it's part of basketball. Sometimes you're gonna get hit, but I feel no pain. I get up."