“If you’re going as hard as these guys are in a playoff game, 35-36 [minutes] I think that’s pushing the ceiling.”
Those were the words Bucks’ coach Budenholzer postgame on Friday, just as NBA Twitter and pundits were taking him to the woodshed for playing Giannis Antetokounmpo only 34 minutes — and his other All-Star, Khris Middleton, 36 minutes — in a must-win Game 3. Milwaukee did not win and is now the No. 1 seed is on the brink of elimination in the second round.
Antetokounmpo was playing on a sore ankle tweaked in the first quarter, but could he have played more? Via Eric Woodyard of ESPN:
“I feel great,” Antetokounmpo said. “I could play more.”
Antetokounmpo should play more — but some of the Bucks’ failures fall on his shoulders, too. He has to do more with his minutes.
Budenholzer is coming under fire for not adjusting his style of play or his rotations. It’s not as simple as “just make some adjustments” — the Bucks had the best record in the NBA two straight season and the best defense in the league this year because their style of play works. The Bucks’ roster is built to play this way. They cannot abandon who they are and morph into something else on the fly. And it wasn’t Budenholzer who was missing layups and good-look threes when Milwaukee shot 0-of-10 in the final 4:20 of the game.
But there can be tweaks, ones the coach isn’t making. Like going away from Eric Bledsoe defending Jimmy Butler in the fourth when it is clear that’s not working. Or, playing the 25-year-old MVP more minutes (if his ankle can handle it).
To rise to the level Antetokounmpo wants to be at, he has to take over games like Friday and get his team a win. The Heat have built a wall in front of Antetokounmpo preventing him from getting to the rim, and he has responded by shooting 5-of-27 (18.5%) outside the restricted area in the series. If he cannot make the Heat pay with an occasional midrange jumper that falls (let alone a three) then the Bucks offense breaks down. Brook Lopez and Middleton are the shooters around Antetokounmpo, but he has to be a threat, too.
That said, the Greek Freak should be on the court more to have that chance.