In Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Giannis Antetokounmpo collided with Clint Capela on defense. As both behemoths fell to the ground, Capela’s weight pushed into Giannis’ knee and forced it to hyperextend. It was a freak accident, a basketball play gone wrong, but the hopes of the franchise – beyond even this postseason – were teetering on the edge of despair all night. Would the injury be a temporary setback, or a devastating blow?
Khris Middleton didn’t see Giannis Antetokounmpo’s injury happen.— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) June 30, 2021
“I heard him yell.” - Middleton
And with Antetokounmpo writhing in pain after it, he knew it was serious.
On the moment everything stopped for the Bucks, at @TheAthletic: https://t.co/4OtxLRhu8S
As of this afternoon, we still don’t know.
The timing, for all sorts of reasons, could not have been worse. Giannis was in the midst of a historically-great postseason (even if he wasn’t getting appreciated enough for it), and the Milwaukee Bucks were two wins away from making the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974. After dropping Game 4 (which may have happened anyway) to the Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee remains two games away from the NBA Finals. It’s possible that this is as close as they get, this year. Fans might compare the Bucks’ playoff outlook to the 2019 ECF debacle, and such comparisons are premature but not unfounded. In 2019, the Bucks had no one to blame but themselves; now, their struggles are dwarfed by the absence of Antetokounmpo.
Giannis isn’t a “former MVP” that’s missing time. Giannis is only one season removed from back-to-back MVP awards. He is the fulcrum of the Milwaukee Bucks, on both offense and defense. He is their leader, the soul and fiber of the team. The stage was set for him to lead his team all the way to basketball’s promised land, but it looks as if he’ll have to lead from afar rather than charging ahead on the front lines.
Maybe it won’t be that bad. Maybe it will be, but the injury also has a galvanizing effect on the rest of the Bucks. Maybe Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez, and their teammates are able to overcome this adversity, transform the way they play to account for the Greek Freak-sized gap in the starting lineup, and find a way to create success in the shadow of this loss. Either way, the Milwaukee Bucks just won’t be the same, and they might not be the same for a while.