The numbers from Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Game 2 performance are not pretty.
After starting the game 0 of 6 from the field, Antetokounmpo finished the first half with as bad a line as he’s ever posted: 2 of 12 (16.7 percent) for 5 points. Tuesday night marked the first time in Antetokounmpo’s career that he’s attempted more than 10 field goals in a half but totaled fewer than seven points. His struggles were obvious.
So, would Antetokounmpo say he was frustrated?
Sure. But that’s hardly his focus.
“This is what basketball is about,” he said. “You’re going to make shots; you’re going to miss shots. Being human is about feeling emotion, so sometimes you’re going to be frustrated, sometimes you’re going to be happy. But, at the end of the day, you play basketball to make the right plays, make good decisions, and find your teammates. That’s why you play basketball.
“At the end of the day, I don’t sit down and complain that I’m frustrated. I just keep chipping away, keep finding solutions for myself and my teammates.
Antetokounmpo finished with 28 points on 27 shots in the Bucks’ 109-86 loss to the Celtics, which evened their second-round playoff series at one game apiece. While he came alive in the second half, his performance was once again inefficient. Through the first two games, Antetokounmpo has scored 52 points on 52 shots.
There are still plays where he asserts his dominance, such as the pass to himself off the backboard for a two-handed dunk in Game 1, but the Celtics have largely been able to make things difficult for Antetokounmpo as a scorer.
In Game 1, the two-time MVP flexed as a passer, dishing 12 assists and regularly finding his open teammates for three. In Game 2, however, the Celtics took away those outlets, doubling him less often. When they did send two, they did so later in the possession.
According to Antetokounmpo, the adjustment had little effect on him.
“It did not change much,” he said. “I’ve seen it my whole career.”
The numbers don’t lie, though, and Antetokounmpo hasn’t generated his typical level of production. Celtics forward Grant Williams has played an important role in containing Antetokounmpo, staying physical, keeping him away from the rim, and forcing him to turn the ball over or take tougher shots. When Antetokounmpo has gotten to the basket, he’s struggled more than usual to finish.
“You got to give their defenders credit,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “They’re solid, good, good defenders.”
In the second half of Tuesday’s game, Antetokounmpo returned somewhat to his usual form, scoring 23 points on 9 of 15 shooting. The Celtics built such a commanding 25-point lead in the first half, however, that even though the Bucks nearly crept back into the game, they never managed to cut the deficit to single digits.
“There were a few plays where it felt like we could almost get over the hump,” Budenholzer said. “Credit to them, they beat us pretty handily tonight. But there were a couple plays late in the third quarter and fourth quarter that maybe we could have got it inside of 10. But we didn’t.”
With All-Star Khris Middleton (knee) sidelined indefinitely, the Bucks are going to have a hard time creating offense if Antetokounmpo and guard Jrue Holiday (7 of 20 for 19 points) aren’t scoring at a high clip. On Tuesday, the Celtics registered the biggest 3-point gap in conference postseason history, outscoring the Bucks 60-9 from beyond the arc.
Asked if the team needs to explore other avenues on offense, Budenholzer acknowledged the need to score more efficiently but also expressed confidence in Antetokounmpo and Holiday operating in 1-on-1 situations.
“Giannis is a great player, Jrue is a great player, those guys are going to make plays,” he said. “I have all the faith in the world in those two guys. They found some opportunities, they just have to find more of them. Collectively, we have to be better and we will be.”
Even after Tuesday’s lopsided results, the Bucks, the reigning NBA champions, don’t sound fazed. They believe in their offense and ability to game plan. Plus, Boston’s hot three-point shooting should regress to the mean.
“It’s basketball,” said Holiday. “It’s ebbs and flow. They had a lot of highs today. I don’t think we take it too seriously. We’ve been in this position before.”
“This is what the playoffs are about,” added Budenholzer. “It’s great. Game-to-game, the challenge is to be better.”
Milwaukee has the utmost faith Antetokounmpo will do exactly that moving forward.
“Giannis, he always figures things out,” Budenholzer said.
“I try,” responded Antetokounmpo. “I try.”