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It's Now or Never for Milwaukee

Updated: Oct 9, 2021

Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks looks downwards as the basketball court during an NBA game.
Giannis Antetokounmpo | Image via AP/Aaron Gash

On Monday night, Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat put up 40 points, leading his team to a win against the Milwaukee Bucks. His impact was felt most in the fourth quarter, as he landed shot after shot without cease. When newly crowned Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo was asked about not guarding Butler, he shot back, "Why would you ask that? I'll do whatever coach wants me to do."

That doesn't quite sound like the Defensive Player of the Year. The Greek Freak was struggling offensively against Miami, scoring 18 points and coughing up 6 turnovers. To make matters worse, he shot a paltry 4-for-12 from the free-throw line. For a player as driven as Giannis, it was surprising to see him defer such an important defensive responsibility. Locking Jimmy up in the fourth quarter could have made the difference for the Bucks.

During the regular season, the Heat were the only team that truly had Milwaukee's number. In two games, Miami took both, holding the Bucks to 86 points in their second matchup. Their ability to stop Giannis's aggressive game has translated so far in the playoffs; They have prevented Milwaukee from doing damage both in the paint and in transition.

Kyle Korver of the Milwaukee Bucks watches as his teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo fights for position in the paint with Duncan Robinson and Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat.
The Heat have played rugged defense against the Bucks in this series. | Image via Getty/Mike Ehrmann

Antetokounmpo's inability to close out games has proven concerning for Milwaukee. When the opposing defense forces him to take jumpshots or fouls him, he becomes mortal. Free throws are named as such for a reason. Unfortunately, Giannis has struggled to cash in at the line his entire career. He has shot 56% from the free-throw line in this year's playoffs, air-balling quite a few shots. Without a reliable jumper, he cannot afford to miss that many from the line.

Milwaukee earned the best record in the entire league this season, finishing 56-17. Although the slashing Antetokounmpo is their primary offensive threat, sharpshooting sidekick Khris Middleton has been a revelation. Middleton came tantalizingly close to joining the 50-40-90 club, a testament to his fantastic efficiency. Accompanied by other shooters like George Hill, Kyle Korver, and Brook Lopez, the roster is wonderfully spaced around Giannis.

Khris Middleton of the Milwaukee Bucks dribbles the ball up the court in an NBA game.
Khris Middleton | Image via Getty/Ronald Martinez

However, with Giannis entering free agency after the end of next season, fans and the rest of the league alike can't help but wonder if he will team up with a proven star elsewhere. Kevin Durant did something similar in 2016, leaving Oklahoma City to team up with Steph Curry in Golden State. Considering that Golden State knocked the Thunder out of the playoffs the previous season, many were incensed to see Durant leave the team that drafted him nine years prior. They called him a snake, criticizing his taking the "easy route" and failing to establish his legacy in Oklahoma City. He proceeded to win two championships with the Warriors, but left after his third season due to chemistry issues with the rest of the team.

Perhaps Giannis will see Durant's decision as a cautionary tale. The Greek Freak is already one of the most beloved players in the league, but leaving Milwaukee without a ring could earn him quite a few detractors. He could forge his own path, as he has stated that he wants to stay to develop Milwaukee's culture as a winning team.

Nonetheless, rumors have already begun to circulate that unless the Bucks win it all in the next two years, fans can kiss the Greek Freak goodbye. Things change in an instant in the NBA, and Giannis's previous declaration may have no meaning come next year's offseason.

Virtually every team in the league would be ecstatic to add him, but some have been more closely linked to him than others. One NBA executive said that if the Heat beat the Bucks in this series, Miami could emerge as the top suitor. Additionally, the Warriors and the Mavericks have been rumored as top destinations for Antetokounmpo.

This series against the Heat will make a colossal impact on the entire league. If Milwaukee falls to Miami, Giannis will have far more reason to think about looking elsewhere. So, if fans want the reigning MVP to stay for years to come, they must hope that he can rise above the Heat's stifling defense and slash his way to victory.


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