When the Milwaukee Bucks were unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs in the second round by the Miami Heat last season in the bubble, one of the biggest criticisms levied against head coach Mike Budenholzer was that he didn’t play his best players enough minutes.
Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged just 30.8 minutes, while Khris Middleton finished at 35.5. They were 63rd and 33rd, respectively in minutes per game during the playoffs. Budenholzer always countered that he wanted his players fresh so they could perform at an optimum level, but that strategy makes far more sense over the grind of the regular season than it does in the playoffs.
Please check the opt-in box to acknowledge that you would like to subscribe.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
This time around, one of the many reasons the Bucks broke through and won the title was that Budenholzer trusted his best players more. He shortened his rotations — so much so that Bobby Portis, one of the heroes of Game 6, wasn’t even playing in the second round against the Brooklyn Nets — and Giannis, Middleton and Jrue Holiday were routinely playing 40-plus minutes a night. All three averaged at least 38.1 minutes per game, and were among the top 15 in minutes this postseason.
The change paid off with a title, but it didn’t come without a cost. Following Game 5 of the Finals, Giannis showed up for his postgame press conference, then quickly left and disappeared for 30 minutes. As it turned out, he was so dehydrated that he needed to receive an IV treatment, according to a report from Eric Nehm and Sam Amick of The Athletic:
Amid all the pleasure, there was lingering pain. When Antetokounmpo had come to his postgame press conference after Game 5, he sat with a grimace and said, “I can’t,” before leaving the room and returning more than 30 minutes later. In between, sources say he was extremely sick to his stomach from dehydration and even received fluid IV treatment after his 32-point, nine-rebound, six-assist performance. The remnants of that competitive approach were there after Game 6, too, as Antetokounmpo — clearly experiencing serious discomfort yet again — held his stomach and chugged bottles of Gatorade while making his way between interview stations.
In Game 5, Giannis had put up 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists in 41 minutes. He also threw down the game-sealing alley-oop from Holiday after a full-court sprint in the closing seconds. With another masterful performance, he had quite literally run himself into the ground.
Knowing what we do now, this makes his 50-point, 14-rebound, five-block masterpiece a few days later in the series-clinching Game 6 even more remarkable.