In the 2019 and 2020 NBA playoffs, Giannis Antetokounmpo came up small after winning the regular season MVP award both years.
His Milwaukee Bucks finished with the league’s best record both times, but they blew a 2-0 lead in the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals to the Toronto Raptors, then fell in five games in the second round in 2020 to the underdog Miami Heat.
Both years, there was a perception that Antetokounmpo didn’t play up to his standards, let alone the standards of an MVP, in decisive playoff games.
But last year, he finally broke through, winning his first NBA championship and Finals MVP as the Bucks took down the Phoenix Suns in six games.
Milwaukee just dropped a seesaw seven-game series versus the Boston Celtics in which it fell apart in the second half of Game 7, scoring just 38 points while giving up 61.
But this time, no one is really pointing the finger at the Greek Freak.
It was not his fault, and he has every reason to hold his head up high.
Antetokounmpo Played Like A Champ Versus Boston
It needed Antetokounmpo to be at his best, and it got the best that Antetokounmpo had to offer.
After the series was tied at one win apiece, he went off for 42 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists, two steals, and two blocked shots in Game 3, as the Bucks took control with a 103-101 win.
📊 42 PTS | 12 REB | 8 AST pic.twitter.com/HdIDWfOp7w
— NBA Australia (@NBA_AU) May 7, 2022
It was Antetokounmpo who basically won the game for them by attacking and scoring a layup with 44 seconds left to put them up for good.
In Game 4, he had 34 points, 18 rebounds, and five assists, but the Bucks couldn’t get stops in the fourth quarter as they blew a double-digit lead and fell, 116-108.
The Greek Freak bounced back with 40 points in Game 5 as Milwaukee overcame a late deficit to win 110-107 and take a 3-2 series lead.
BUCKS vs. CELTICS GAME 1: Sun. 1pm/et on ABC pic.twitter.com/M7PCU3Wkpl
— NBA (@NBA) April 28, 2022
He had 20 rebounds each in Game 6 and Game 7, to go along with 44 points in Game 6 to at least give his team a chance to compete.
As it turned out, the main culprit was someone else who couldn’t even play.
The Middleton Injury Cost Milwaukee The Series
Khris Middleton, who is the Bucks’ second-best player, suffered a sprained MCL early in their first-round series versus the Chicago Bulls.
At first, it was thought he would likely return after a couple of weeks, but as the Eastern Conference semifinals started, it became clear that he wouldn’t suit up at any time against Boston.
Last year, Middleton was a big key to Milwaukee winning the world championship, as he got hot multiple times down the stretch of games to propel it to some big wins.
But without him, the Bucks were at a disadvantage.
It allowed Boston to key on Antetokounmpo, knowing that he had a lack of teammates who could get their own shot, and at times, it felt like he had to do everything himself.
The fact that he still averaged 33.9 points a game in the series is a testament to not only his talent and skill but also his aggressiveness and willingness to put his imprint on the game, especially in crunch time.
If Middleton didn’t get hurt, perhaps the Bucks would be playing for a return trip to the NBA Finals right now.