With Bucks Facing Elimination, Uncertainty Grows Around Giannis Antetokounmpo

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“They’re a great team, and you know they’re going to play hard,” Antetokounmpo said of the Heat. “They play hard for 48 minutes. For you to beat them, you have to match that. You cannot play hard for 36 minutes. You cannot play hard for 24 minutes. You have to play hard for 48 minutes to beat a team like that. We knew that coming into the series, and they played harder than us.”

The idea that the Heat had “played harder” than the Bucks was a theme for Antetokounmpo: He mentioned it 16 times over the course of a six-minute news conference. Jimmy Butler, in particular, left his imprint all over the game for Miami, finishing with 30 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists.

Antetokounmpo collected 21 points, 16 rebounds and 9 assists but shot 7 of 21 from the field. He also played just 35 minutes in a game that the Bucks desperately needed to win, and started the fourth quarter on the bench. He said he could have played more. His ankle, he said, was “great.” Budenholzer indicated that he had no regrets about limiting Antetokounmpo’s playing time.

“If you’re going as hard as these guys are in a playoff game — 35, 36 — I think that’s pushing the ceiling,” Budenholzer said, referring to the minutes he wanted his best players to supply.

When the season was suspended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Bucks were 53-12 and looking primed for a title run. But they have not been able to reassemble the pieces in the bubble. In eight seeding games, they went 3-5, then lost the first game of their first-round playoff series with the Orlando Magic before winning the next four.

At the same time, the Bucks have been at the center of various tensions and challenges for players here. It was Hill, one of the team’s veteran leaders, who led his team to boycott one of their playoff games against the Magic after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, in Kenosha, Wis. It led to a wave of disruptions and protests across multiple sports leagues.

On Friday, Hill was asked whether the team was struggling to focus on basketball with so much else going on.

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