A week after violently hyperextending his left knee during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo was in the starting lineup for Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Finals on Tuesday night.
Though the Bucks lost to the Phoenix Suns, 118-105, it was a remarkable feat for him to be on the floor at all, let alone put up 20 points, 17 rebounds and four assists in 35 minutes of action. And while there may have been a few moments here and there where his knee bothered him, or he couldn't make a move he normally would have made, he largely looked like his usual self. After watching him chase down Mikal Bridges for this incredible block, you would have no reason to think he was hurt at all.
Speaking to reporters following the game, Giannis said his knee felt "good" and that he was trying to put his attention towards helping his team. "I'm just happy that I'm out there and I can help my teammates in any way possible and participate in my first NBA Finals," Giannis said. "I'm just trying to put my attention on that or if my knee hurts. At the end of the day, I'm out there. I don't feel pain. I can run, I can jump, I can set screens, I can rebound, I can do stuff. So I'm good, I'm happy."
Most notable, though, were Giannis' comments about his thoughts in the initial aftermath of the injury. Because he wasn't playing, Giannis hasn't spoken to the media since it happened. This was our first chance to hear his thoughts, and they show how he feared his season was over.
"When I went down, I thought I'm going to be out for the year," Giannis said. "I thought I'm gone. I thought I'd turn -- I'd hurt everything in my knee. Just being able to be on the bench and not be on a cold table getting surgery and supporting those guys, watching the game and walking around and sharing with them."
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said that Giannis was not under a minutes restriction and that how much he played was based on communication.
"We mapped him out a plan, like we really do pretty much every game," Budenholzer said. "But considering his situation, and then there's just feedback during the game, if we can adjust and what we can do and how he's feeling. You know, so I think him playing 35, 35-plus minutes, everybody was kind of communicating and getting to that point."
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That formula will continue throughout the series. As Giannis noted postgame, his knee could swell up in the morning, and both he and the team will have to see how he responds to his first action in a week. But assuming there's no setback, he should be able to give the Bucks at least what he gave them tonight.
Which is, a chance to win this series. For what it's worth -- single-game plus-minus is always a little wonky -- the Bucks were plus-one with Giannis on the floor tonight. Every other starter was at least minus-11.