Giannis’ Injury Slows, Not Halts Bucks’ Playoffs Pace


Some games, such as NBA basketball, are meant to be played with more than one star.

The Milwaukee Bucks learned this fact through a frightening experience three years ago. Now, with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s calf strain, the Bucks must face this truth once more.

There is still hope, however, that the Bucks can withstand his absence. Consider a hopeful example from a different Freak: Game Freak’s original Pokémon games.

Unless one is foolish enough to play the entire game with one Pokémon, a time will certainly come when your favorite faints, perhaps during the games’ epic Elite Four climax. Then, the rest of your team of five (four in the NBA) must work harder to knock out Agatha’s ice foes.

Two vital comparisons prove that the Bucks can still succeed in the short term: by looking back on their Eastern Finals success, and a calming stat comparison from our Freak’s absences this season.

No max revives needed, Bucks Lead promises!

2021 East Finals: Teamwork Harasses Hawks

If your trainer has the talent to reach the game’s semifinal (Lance), the exit door is, literally, in sight.

For our Bucks, the Atlanta Hawks were the last gatekeeper before Milwaukee could reach its first Finals in 47 seasons.

Just when Red or Blue, the trainer, seems about to triumph with his beloved Blastoise, Lance’s Dragonite could pull out the…

Hyper beam. Noooooooo!

Well, as good as those Hawks were, they didn’t have a hyper beam. However, they did seem fortunate when Giannis hyperextended his left knee in Atlanta’s Game 4 win.

With the series tied 2-2, Milwaukee had the comfort of at least having Game 5 at home.

Only three years earlier, Bucks fans swarmed the Bradley Center as Giannis dominated the Celtics for three crucial wins.

The Bradley Center is now reduced to rubble, but the Bucks took even less time than that destruction to demolish the Hawks’ heart at the beautiful Fiserv Forum.

Even before the tip, the Bucks seemed to be in a comfortable state. Brook Lopez jogged down the sideline to get pumped for the tip, and Milwaukee started the game with its usually zany energy level.

Beginning a challenge in a comfortable environment proves a favorable factor. But how favorable?

Fiserv First

What constitutes homecourt advantage? In Tobias Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim’s intriguing 2012 tome Scorecasting, the authors argue that travel and referee bias favors the host team.

This author, however, is a bit skeptical about Moskowitz’s and Wertheim’s dismissal of fan enthusiasm as a third explanation.

Consider the Bucks’ advantage at home this season. The Deer recorded a 31-11 record in Milwaukee compared to just 18-22 on the road. The Bucks outscored their opponents by an average of 6.3 points a game at Fiserv, and the team’s opponents outscored Milwaukee by 1.3 points, on average, outside the Cream City.

Giannis, too, plays his best hoops at home. Although he scores at a higher clip on the road (32.9 points versus 28.2) and a more efficient rate (63.3% from the field against 59% at Fiserv), the results are superior in Milwaukee.

Consider that Giannis averages two fewer minutes a game at the Forum, and has a +/- over twice as impactful (6.1 to 3 on to road). Those facts indicate that Giannis doesn’t need to play as much at Fiserv, and, intuitively, is more effective when he is on the court. Happily, the Bucks open at home in the playoffs this season, giving Giannis more time to recover.

More promising still is the Freak’s performance when he has that extra recuperation time.

Victory Road

The Bucks’ 2021 Fiserv Fight proved enough to obtain a 3-2 advantage in the series.

Game 6 was a challenge greater still.

Not only would the Deer clinch a Finals berth with a triumph in Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, they could avoid (potentially) asking Giannis to return for a winner-take-all Game 7, where anything can happen.

This season proves how durable Giannis is when in his freakish rhythm, highlighting that contest’s importance in hindsight.

Giannis played 73 games this season. Of those, 43 tipped with one rest day. Giannis recorded 1,530 minutes in those 43 games, an average of 35.6 a game. His average game score was +3.3 in those games.

These numbers demonstrate that at a minimum playoff scenario (remember, there are no back-to-backs in the postseason), Giannis projects to play healthy minutes, and do so fairly effectively.

Sure, his stats with three or more days off seem dim, as Giannis only has a total +/- of +9. That’s from a sample of only eight games, however, and only 290 minutes, which divides to about his average of 36.3 minutes a game.

One can fairly expect, then, for the Freak to need a bit of time to return to full form.

More telling, however, is the larger sample size when Giannis has one or two days off compared to none. Giannis recorded 53 games this season under that one-and-two day sample time. He played 1,857 minutes, 35 a contest (and remember that’s game minutes and doesn’t account for the many and lengthier playoff timeouts). His average game score for those 53 games is +5.1.

By contrast, Giannis played on the second game of a back-to-back 12 times. He participated in 421 minutes in those contests, an average of 35.1 a game.

His usage, then, is almost the same regardless of time off. That’s promising for the uncertainties of a playoff schedule!

Most notably, though, his game score dips a smidge to +4.6 in those 12 matchups. But that would still rank comfortably second across the team throughout the 82-game full season.

At press time, the timing of Giannis’ return is not exactly known. If the past projects the future, however, it becomes evident that there’s no need to recycle the parade blueprint.

Oak to The Rescue

It’s easy to focus on the excitement of the Valley-oop, Giannis’s clinching slam in Phoenix, or the celebration after the championship clincher against the Suns.

However, like the super-annoying “ding dong ding dong” when your Pokémon is battered, the Hawks almost sabotaged the party in the final moments.

Milwaukee dominated Atlanta for most of Game 6. However, the Hawks cut the Bucks’ 22-point fourth-quarter lead down to seven with a minute left.

All Giannis could do, from the bench, was hope.

Ted Davis, the Bucks’ previous radio announcer, once observed, “Hope is a city in Arkansas.”

In Wisconsin, though, it’s a bit more.

Khris Middleton bounced a pass to P.J. Tucker, who unleashed a dagger three to finish Atlanta.

Thankfully, numbers always tell the truth. Yes, Giannis hasn’t been quite as sharp with excess time on the plane this season.

Whether it’s one day, two days, or even zero days off, Giannis brought consistent dominance this season. If the Bucks replicate their 2021 heroics, winning two vital games without their top player, glory surely beckons again.

After defeating your rival, the champion, Professor Oak rushes in to assure the trainer that he has, indeed, completed the game. After Giannis returns and quickly returns to full strength?

It may be time for a new group of champions to enter the NBA record books, with their future Hall of Fame freak again returning to the Finals in glory.

About Jeffrey Newholm

"Jammin Jeff" Newholm had been a basketball fanatic since his high school days, and remained a casual fan as a student in Whitewater. Wishing to check in as an active participant, he also completed a writing certificate program at UWM. He loves seeing Bucks games more than any other activity in hometown Milwaukee and especially screaming really really loudly to get someone to miss a free throw. Twitter: @JeffreyNewholm

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