Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo on playing in NBA Finals after knee injury: ‘I thought I’m going to be out for the year’

By | July 7, 2021

Just a week ago, Bucks fans were holding their collective breath as Giannis Antetokounmpo crashed to the floor in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals with what appeared to be a serious knee injury. Fast forward to Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday night, and the two-time MVP looked a lot like his usual self.

Antetokounmpo had 20 points, 17 rebounds and four assists in Milwaukee’s 118-105 loss to Phoenix, an impressive performance considering “The Greek Freak” had only been upgraded from doubtful to questionable on Tuesday afternoon. During his postgame media availability, Antetokounmpo, who suffered a hyperextension of his left knee against the Hawks but avoided any structural damage, told reporters he didn’t feel any pain in his 35 minutes of action.

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“It’s OK. You know, obviously not trying to make it about me, but felt great,” Antetokounmpo said. “You know, the medical staff cleared me to play, and you know, out there I had my balance. Thought my knee was stable. Did not feel pain. So I felt good.”

Antetokounmpo may feel good now, but he admitted that he initially feared the worst when he went down in the previous round of the NBA playoffs. He still hasn’t watched the clip of the play in which he was injured.

“I’m just happy, man. I went down, I thought I’m going to be out for the year. I thought I’m gone,” Antetokounmpo said. “I thought I’d turn — I’d hurt everything in my knee. Just being able to be on the bench and not be on a cold table getting surgery and supporting those guys, watching the game and walking around and sharing with them. Obviously, my competitive side will want to play, but at the end of the day you’ve always got to find the positive things in everything that you go through in order for you to move forward.

“You know, I’m happy that they were able to get the job done. They played great. They played together. I was extremely proud for the team and I’m happy that I have the opportunity to be out there with them again and finish what we started.”

Antetokounmpo went through a rigorous rehabilitation process in order to get clearance to play from Milwaukee’s medical staff. Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said Antetokounmpo had been “checking boxes the last couple days and making progress.” He credited both the All-Star forward and the team’s staff for getting him back on the floor so quickly.

“I think there were a lot of good things, considering five days and what he’s been through these last five, six, seven days,” Budenholzer said. “I think 17 rebounds, 20 points, some great playmaking, passing, defending the rim, he’s just like everybody else. I’m sure we’ll find some things where he could be better. I think it usually takes him playing — he’s a rhythm guy.

“So, I’m excited about how he’ll improve from Game 1 to Game 2. We’ll see how he feels. But I think play-wise, he always gets better when he plays.”