The Milwaukee Bucks head home for Game 3, looking to avoid a series deficit that no team has overcome in the history of the game after dropping Game 2 in Phoenix.
The 118-108 loss came despite a historic performance from Giannis Antetokounmpo, with the Bucks superstar tallying 42 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks in 40 minutes of court time.
The individual effort comes in just his second game back from a severe left knee hyperextension, that left himself and the team fearing his season was over.
"When I'm out there it's not about testing it out. When I'm out there I'm trying to play, trying to help my team win in any way possible," Antetokounmpo responded when asked about his condition.
Looking hobbled in stretches, Antetokounmpo denied there is any issue with his knee in typical fashion.
Giannis filled up the stat sheet:- Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) July 9, 2021
42 PTS | 12 REB | 4 AST | 3 BLK | 1 STL pic.twitter.com/MR47W30hNd
"I think when you start thinking about your knee, or your toe or whatever the case may be you're making excuses in your mind. When you're out there just play the game. Do whatever you can and leave it out there on the floor. No matter what the outcome is you just live with it."
20 of the 42 points came in the third quarter, making Antetokounmpo the first player since Michael Jordan in 1993 to tally at least 20 points in one quarter of an NBA Finals game.
Remarkably, the Bucks are +4 with the two-time MVP on the court in the series, despite the team being -23 in overall point differential through the first two games.
Stretching to 40 minutes in Game 2 despite visible soreness and cramping in the fourth quarter, Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer outlined the strategy when it comes to how far they can stretch their star big man.
"There's feedback between him and myself and sports performance, I think he's in a good place," Budenholzer said.
"Conditioning wise to have the injury and then five days before Game 1....he wants to be out there but I think he understands. He'll be better going into Game 3, his conditioning, everything, I think he wants us to lean on him hard, he wants as much responsibility as we can give him which is part of what makes him great."
"We gotta go back home and protect home."@MotorolaUS | #FearTheDeer pic.twitter.com/QLeX8q6FOq- Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) July 9, 2021
Part of the issue for the Bucks is the continued struggles of Jrue Holiday, who has combined for just 27 points on 35 shots so far in the Finals.
"Just keep talking to him. Keep telling him to be aggressive no matter what is going on," said Antetokounmpo when asked about the leadership role he can take with Holiday.
"You cannot get in your feelings. It's hard not to, it's the NBA Finals, twenty thousand people booing you, it's hard but at the end of the day it's not about me, it's not about him, it's not about Khris, it's not about coach, it's about all of us. He understands that, I don't worry at all about him, I know he's going to be there when we need him the most. He's a great basketball player and he's played great all year and he's going to continue to play great for this team."
The Bucks are in a familiar position heading home, after dropping the first two games on the road against Brooklyn in the second round, something they could potentially draw on prior to Game 3 tipping at Fiserv Forum.
"It's always too good to play at home in front of your fans. We took a step towards to the right direction but we got to keep getting better in order for us to put ourselves in a position to win this series. We're going to figure it out."
"We know what the deal is. We got to go back home and do our job. We've been here before, we're were able to get the job done. Hopefully, we can play together, have fun, compete, make shots and put ourselves in a position to win a game. We know what the deal is, man."
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