An important part of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s daily ritual, in addition to his afternoon nap and his workout, is a 20-minute walk. It clears his head, he says, and gives him some distance from his track to play basketball for the Milwaukee Bucks. Sometimes he talks to one of his brothers or his mother. Sometimes he simply enjoys the silence. There are also days that he checks the weather and decides to rather hop in his car for a short ride.
“Milwaukee is very cold,” he said.
Describing his walks as therapeutic, he says it helps him stay in the present – a concept that has not always been easy for Antetokounmpo or the Bucks, whose disappointments in the past have only been speculations about the future of the team. aroused.
Where to start? At the end of last season, after the Bucks made a premature exit from the NBA bubble after losing in the Eastern Conference semifinals, there were questions about Coach Mike Budenholzer’s job security and Antetokounmpo’s contract. In the free agency, the Bucks made a sign-and-trade offer for Bogdan Bogdanovic, which led to the team forfeiting a draft pick for violating the league’s rules on tampering.
The Bucks stumbled through the early months of this season, losing three of their first five games, and then drawing five times in February – a difficult series that includes two losses for the Toronto Raptors. Milwaukee, a team with championship aspirations and one of the most talented players of his generation, looked like he was mediocre. But Antetokounmpo, who won the NBA’s most valuable player awards, went for his walks (and occasional rides) and kept the faith.
“I think I did a better job this year to enjoy this moment and not let myself be so much explored and start thinking about playoffs, results, championships, no championships,” he said in a conference with reporters this week. said. “Because at the end of the day, it’s a stressful job we do, and you do not want to be stressed.”
He added, ‘The outcome – I do not really care. I care about the process, and it’s helping me to talk to you right now. ‘
It was, after all, a useful strategy. And Antetokounmpo, who eased a lot of tension in his own life by signing a five-year, $ 228 million five-year contract extension before the start of the season, suddenly gave the Bucks their toughest, most determined basketball of the season. Milwaukee has won ten of its last 11 games, including five in a row – a series that extended the team Wednesday night by erasing a 19-point deficit on the road to stunning the Philadelphia 76ers in overtime, 109-105.
After Antetokounmpo scored 7 consecutive points, he took a festive seat on the court in Wells Fargo Center, where there were a limited number of spectators. Some of them got boisterous.
“Is there anything wrong with having fun?” Asked Antetokounmpo.
The revival of the Bucks coincided with the return of Jrue Holiday, their starting point guard, who missed ten consecutive games after testing positive for the coronavirus. He was taken out to play on February 28. More help is on the way: according to several reports, The Bucks traded with the Houston Rockets on Wednesday for PJ Tucker, a veteran forward who will add depth and play experience.
Tucker will join a team that is already among the league leaders in offensive efficiency. Budenholzer, as recently explained by the Athletic, made a small but significant tactical change this season and positioned an attacking player at the spot known as’ the ‘dark’ spot – an area along the baseline just off the pitch. In recent seasons, the Bucks would clear the court and put players in the corners. But because Antetokounmpo spends so much time on the perimeter to handle the ball, a player near the basket can drag at least one possible defender away from him and make room for him and the other scorers.
“It’s a good step,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said before the game Wednesday. ‘I thought Golden State did an excellent job of it. There was a time when Steph Curry was in the dark spot, which is insane when you think about it, but it worked because it created spacing. If you help, you had to help him, and then he would appear after the 3. ‘
In addition to strategic adjustments and staff movements, Budenholzer cited the Bucks’ unity – that nebulous idea of chemistry – as a factor in his team’s strong play. It was fully visible against the 76ers. The Bucks could not have played much worse in the first half, with 26.7 percent off the field and 1 of 17 from the three-point series. They had more turnover (13) than field goals (12). Antetokounmpo tried only four shots. It was a deviation.
Budenholzer said he can feel energy – under the reserves, and whenever the team is defended – and that gives him hope. He also knew he could rely on Antetokounmpo, who apparently has a lot – what was that again? – pret. Fun Giannis is bad news for the rest of the league. Against the 76ers, he finished with 32 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists, ending his series of three consecutive three-doubles in a pretty spectacular way.
“There will be times when I have to be aggressive and go downhill,” he said. ‘But there are also times when I have to find my teammates. I choose to do both. ”
As for the Bucks’ recent legacy of the absence of the post-season and all the weighty expectations that will definitely greet them again, Antetokounmpo said he does not even allow himself to think about the playoffs.
“You will be exhausted and you have no energy if you think about it every day,” he said. ‘So I just try to enjoy or lose every moment with my teammates. Just be in a good place. And I know myself, I know my teammates, and I know we’re going to try to be ready when the moment is right. ”