Giannis looking to bounce back Tuesday night in Toronto
As he walked out of the locker room after an uncharacteristically poor performance in the Milwaukee Bucks’ double-overtime loss to Toronto in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals Sunday night, forward Giannis Antetokounmpo was already looking forward to Game 4 tonight.
“You know me,” Antetokounmpo said. “Usually when stuff like this happens, you know what’s coming.”
What’s coming is a bounce-back performance that often borders on vengeance.
Since a 130-125 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on March 17, the Bucks have lost just two of 19 games with Antetokounmpo in the lineup; Game 1 of the conference semifinals against Boston and Sunday night vs. the Raptors.
Antetokounmpo, by the lofty standards he’s established this season, struggled in both games. He finished with 22 points in the loss to the Celtics but went 7-for-21 from the floor and 5-for-10 from the free throw line. Against the Raptors, Antetokounmpo scored just 12 points on 5-for-16 shooting while making only two of seven free throw attempts. He also committed eight turnovers and battled through foul trouble all night before picking up his sixth early in the second overtime.
Antetokounmpo bounced back against the Celtics with 29 points, nine rebounds and four assists in a rout of the Celtics in the second game of that series. If he can duplicate that effort again tonight against the host Raptors, the Bucks could find themselves on the verge of punching their ticket to the NBA Finals.
“Giannis is the MVP of this league,” Bucks point guard Malcolm Brogdon said. “He’s had the best season in the NBA this year. We’re not worried about bouncing back from this one.”
Brogdon and George Hill fueled another solid effort from the bench Sunday night, combining for 44 points on 15-for-26 shooting. But along with Antetokounmpo, the two other members of the Bucks’ “Big Three” were shut down by Toronto’s resurgent defense.
Including Antetokounmpo’s numbers, point guard Eric Bledsoe and wing Khris Middleton were held to 32 points on 13-for-48 shooting. The trio also made only two of 15 combined 3-point attempts while going 8-for-17 from the line. Add Brook Lopez and Nikola Mirotic into the mix and Milwaukee’s starters were 19-for-69 from the field, accounting for 54 of the Bucks’ 112 points.
“It wasn’t our best,” Middleton said. “Myself, Giannis, Bled we’ve got to do a better job. Just competing, making shots, making plays for everybody. We lost. We played bad, us three; the rest of the team played well.”
Defensively, the Bucks held Toronto to 39.2 percent shooting but again had a hard time stopping Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard, who finished with 36 points on 11-for-25 shooting (including a pair of 3s) and made 12 of 13 free throws.
Pascal Siakam was a handful, too, hitting nine of 18 shots for 25 points, while center Marc Gasol knocked down four 3-pointers and finished with 16.
Along with getting back on track offensively, Antetokounmpo knows he and his teammates need to do much better on the defensive end, especially against Leonard.
“We can’t allow Kawhi to make 11 field goals when me, Khris and Bledsoe had 11 (combined),” Antetokounmpo said. “As the leaders of the team, that can’t happen.’’
Despite all that, the Bucks still had a chance to win the game. They stayed within striking distance until 32 seconds remained in the second overtime. While the loss certainly stung, it served as an important lesson and with the right response tonight, could ultimately be nothing more than a speed bump on Milwaukee’s quest for a title.
“We could be up 3-0,” Antetokounmpo said. “Double overtime, we didn’t play well. But at the end of the day, we’ve still got the lead.”