The NBA playoffs are underway, and some favorites are already in a hole, including the Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies, and Milwaukee Bucks. The top seed in the Eastern Conference, the Bucks lost two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who left Sunday’s game in the first quarter with a lower back contusion.
The Bucks lost the game by a score of 130-117, but more important was the status of Antetokounmpo. Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer indicated that an X-ray on Antetokounmpo’s back came back “clear.” While that is good news, there is no way to know at this point how much time, if any, he will miss.
Antetokounmpo landed hard on his lower back after charging into Kevin Love with 1:46 left in the first quarter. After picking up his second foul of the game, Antetokounmpo left the game and came back onto the floor early in the second quarter with tape around his lower back. He labored up and down the court and didn’t take a shot over the next minute and a half. Antetokounmpo left the game with 8:33 remaining and did not return.
Over 11 minutes of action, Antetokounmpo scored six points, hitting 2-of-4 shots from the floor. He’s battled injuries all season, including those to his wrist, calf, and quad. Antetokounmpo missed 19 games this season, with the Bucks going 11-8 in those games.
Although Antetokounmpo has been able to battle back quickly from injuries, the team will be careful with him over the next few days. The combination of advice from doctors and how Antetokounmpo feels will determine when he will return to action.
The Bucks are 8.6 points better with Antetokounmpo in the lineup this season than without him. Their net rating of –1.4 without him would be among the worst in the NBA.
Veteran guard Jrue Holiday, who had 16 points and 16 assists in Sunday’s loss, knows that everyone has to pick up their game with Antetokounmpo out of the lineup, quoting the “next-man-up mentality.”
Khris Middleton led the Bucks with 33 points on 12-of-20 from the floor in Game One. Bobby Portis, who averaged 14 points per game in the regular season, added 21 points off the bench. Five Bucks players averaged double-digit scoring in the loss.
The Heat were led by Jimmy Butler, who dropped 35 points in 43 minutes. Bam Abedayo added 22 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists.
With Antetokoumpo potentially out for Game Two on April 19, Jae Crowder, who averaged 6.9 points per game in the regular season, and Portis will see the bulk of the minutes at power forward. Milwaukee needs to come together and find a way to win to avoid going on the road down 0-2.
The two teams split the four meetings between the teams this season. Both teams won both games at home, with the Bucks winning in a 128-99 blowout on February 24.
There is no question that Antetokounmpo, who averaged 31.1 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game, is the key to the Bucks’ success throughout the postseason.
As the Bucks deal with the loss of Antetokounmpo to a back contusion, other NBA stars are facing their own challenges, like LeBron James, who is uncertain about his future after a playoff exit.