Giannis Antetokounmpo Is Still A Superstar, But Game 5 Is On Him
The Milwaukee Bucks’ shocking 128-126 overtime loss to the Miami Heat in Game 5 falls squarely on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s shoulders. In a series defined by the heroics of Miami star Jimmy Butler, the Greek Freak looked painfully human Wednesday night as the top-seeded Bucks exited the NBA Playoffs in painfully quiet fashion.
“There’s no failure in sports. There’s good days, bad days, some days you are able to be successful, some days you are not, some days it is your turn, some days it’s not. That’s what sports is about. You don’t always win.”
Giannis comments on “failure” pic.twitter.com/QxqkuSMP7b
— NBA (@NBA) April 27, 2023
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After the game, Antetokounmpo reacted strongly when a reporter asked him if he considered the season a failure. The Bucks star wisely answered from a long-term perspective, and nothing he said was incorrect. As a human being, he had a profoundly successful year providing for his family, playing basketball at its highest level and maintaining his image as an internationally successful athlete.
It’s important to remember that athletes on television are people. They have personal lives and passions outside their respective sports. The fact that their triumphs and shortcomings are so widely publicized indicates that they’re successful regardless of the in-game result. Antetokounmpo is a successful person. It is not unfair, however, to simultaneously criticize Antetokounmpo’s Game 5 performance from an athletic standpoint, which fell well short of what the team required of him in the must-win contest.
It is rare that playoff losses are solely the result of a superstar’s poor performance, as a lack of depth and contributions from role players are more common. But not only was Antetokounmpo ineffective in the closing stages of Game 5 — he was arguably a liability, particularly at the free throw line.
In a game that Milwaukee lost by two points in overtime, Antetokounmpo shot 10-for-23 on free throws alone. He appeared so intimidated by the end of the game that he nearly turned the ball away in the fourth quarter to avoid getting fouled after a jump ball.
Foul shots weren’t the only issue; Antetokounmpo’s 38-point stat line masks the fact that he shot 1-for-10 from the field in the fourth quarter, leading the way for a profound Milwaukee scoring drought. The team blew a 16-point lead and eventually allowed Butler to make a last-second layup to tie the game.
At several points, Khris Middleton appeared to be the only Bucks player truly engaged in crunch time, saving Antetokounmpo’s errant pass off the jump ball, making all his free throws in the fourth quarter and overtime, and hitting several shots along the way to keep Milwaukee’s stagnant offense in the game. Middleton was the team’s star, but he couldn’t hold the dam together on his own.
The Bucks’ Game 5 loss came on the heels of an eerily similar Game 4 defeat, in which the team allowed 41 fourth-quarter points to Butler and the eighth-seeded Heat. In Game 5, three of Miami’s starting players eventually fouled out of the game, indicating that the team beyond Butler didn’t exactly rise to the challenge. It didn’t matter, however, as the Bucks descended to catastrophically low levels while Antetokounmpo melted down in real time on live television.
Short-sighted fans are likely to blame Grayson Allen, the Bucks’ fifth starter who somehow got the ball in the final seconds of overtime and failed to get a shot off. More forgiving fans will point to Antetokounmpo’s injury in Game 1, which doubtlessly impacted the first few games of the series. But accepting similar excuses for his Game 5 performance is much harder, as his detrimental play in the fourth quarter seemed to be as mental as it was physical.
Many will tell the story of “Playoff Jimmy” and the Heat’s historic upset in weeks to come. It’s one of the best feel-good stories of the NBA Playoffs so far. By the off-season, however, the collapse of the Milwaukee Bucks will be the story on people’s minds. Questions are inevitably going to be asked of the 2021 NBA Champions, and answers will be hard to come by for some time.
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