When star Giannis Antetokounmpo was still doubtful to participate in Game 2 of the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round series against the Miami Heat due to a lower back injury, guard Jrue Holiday sent a message to the team’s two-time MVP.
“I know you’re going to want to come back,” Holiday told Antetokounmpo. “But if you don’t, know that we’ve got you.”
The Bucks did, indeed. Despite being without Antetokounmpo for Game 2 on Wednesday night, the Bucks compensated with a historic offensive effort. Milwaukee hit 25 three-pointers in a 138-122 win over the Heat, tying an NBA playoff record.
The Bucks finished with seven players in double digits, including six players who scored at least 15 points, which tied an NBA record.
“It takes the whole team; I think you saw that tonight,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton said. “We weren’t carried by just one individual. Many people expect me or Jrue to carry all of Giannis’s responsibilities, but we just cannot. We must work by committee.”
The series is now tied 1-1. Saturday night is Game 3 in Miami.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Bucks scored the most points in a playoff game since 1978, shot the most 3-pointers in a playoff game in club history, and had the most assists in a playoff game since 1978.
Brook Lopez led the Bucks in scoring with 25 points. Holiday had 24 points and 11 assists in the game. Bobby Portis replaced Antetokounmpo in the starting lineup and finished with 13 points and 15 rebounds. Pat Connaughton scored 22 points off the bench after not participating in Game 1.
“We believe we have the best player in the world, but we also believe we have the best players around him.” “The best team,” Middleton said after finishing with 16 points and seven assists. “And that’s what builds confidence, when one guy goes down, we feel like we have a chance to compete at the highest level.”
The Bucks were without Antetokounmpo due to a lower back contusion he sustained while driving to the hoop with little over four minutes remaining in Game 1 on Sunday. He clashed with Kevin Love of Miami and fell awkwardly on his backside.
The Bucks had been bullish about Antetokounmpo’s condition in the days leading up to Game 2, and he was upgraded from doubtful to questionable on the injury report before the game on Wednesday. Despite losing the series 1-0 entering Wednesday, the Bucks chose to be cautious and allow him more time to heal.
However, Middleton said that he shared the same message as Holiday.
“That guy, he’s going to do whatever he can to get out there and play,” Middleton said after the game on Wednesday. “But we always tell him, ‘Big fella, if you need a night, we got you.’” It’s OK, win or lose, we’re going to give it our best. Just have that faith and confidence in us.’ “And he does.We’re going to try our best to hold the fort. Just as we had to do for a short time in the Atlanta series [during the Eastern Conference finals in 2021].”
In the playoffs, the Bucks were successful even without Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee advanced to 3-1 in playoff games when Antetokounmpo sits, including a pair of victory in the 2021 conference finals. Middleton and the Bucks were recalled after Wednesday’s game.
The Bucks have two days off before Game 3 in Miami on Saturday, giving Antetokounmpo’s back extra time to recuperate. However, Wednesday’s victory gives the Bucks even more confidence that they can contend in this series until he returns at full strength.
“Our team has complete trust in one another,” Holiday stated. “We all know Giannis. “We know Giannis is going to try to be Superman and come back and play 48 minutes and do what he does,” he says, “but we can hold down the fort until he comes back.”