Antetokounmpo Wondering How He Can Stay Healthy After Injuries Have Impacted His Last 2 Postseasons

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo watches from the bench during the first half against the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Thursday, May 2, 2024, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo watches from the bench during the first half against the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Thursday, May 2, 2024, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo says he was only able to run at less than half speed as he tried to make it back for the Milwaukee Bucks’ final playoff games before their first-round exit.

Antetokounmpo strained his left calf in an April 9 victory over the Boston Celtics and didn’t play again.

“In our opinion, it was not safe for me to be out there because I couldn’t run full speed,” Antetokounmpo said Friday, one day after Milwaukee’s season ended with a 120-98 Game 6 loss to the Indiana Pacers. “I could run only 30-40%. Even now I can’t run full speed. I’m probably going to take a few days, weeks, whatever, months, I don’t know how long it’ll take until I get back to whatever I need to get back to.”

This marks the second straight season in which Milwaukee has lost in the first round of the playoffs with its two-time MVP limited by injuries. Antetokounmpo missed 2½ games in Milwaukee’s 4-1 loss to the Miami Heat last year with a bruised lower back.

Antetokounmpo mentioned the possibility of changing his offseason program or perhaps even adapting his playing style as he attempts to stay healthy.

“I have to be a little bit lucky,” Antetokounmpo said. “I have to be a little bit careful. Maybe I have to even adjust my game, the way I play. There’s a lot of things. I’m willing to do anything — anything and everything — in order for me to be right there on the court and not let my teammates down.”

Antetokounmpo has a history of making extraordinarily rapid recoveries from injuries. The most notable example came in 2021, when he missed the last two games of the Eastern Conference finals with a hyperextended knee but played the entire NBA Finals and scored 50 points in a title-clinching Game 6 victory over the Phoenix Suns.

This injury was different.

For one thing, Antetokounmpo believed it was his first non-contact injury. He was running up the court that April 9 evening when he took a seat on the floor and grabbed his left leg.

Antetokounmpo then realized he wasn’t recovering quite as quickly as usual. He would wake up with his mind and heart telling him he was going to play that day, but his body would say something different once he took the floor.

“That’s the first time in my career that’s ever happened to me,” Antetokounmpo said.

It’s tough to figure out how much to read into the Bucks’ playoff performance because of their injury situation. Not only did Antetokounmpo not play at all, Damian Lillard missed two games with an Achilles issue. Khris Middleton played the entire series but dealt with a sprained ankle.

Most of the Bucks' key players are well into their 30s, and Antetokounmpo turns 30 on Dec. 6. Even so, Bucks coach Doc Rivers said Friday this team still has the nucleus to contend for many years to come.

“I believe in this team, I really do,” Rivers said. “I think our window is still very much open. But we got to get it right, and this summer is going to be huge.”

Milwaukee’s early postseason exit followed an up-and-down regular season in which the Bucks rarely showed the championship-contending form that was anticipated from them after all the moves they made.

The Bucks fired coach Mike Budenholzer after last year’s playoff loss and acquired Lillard before training camp.

Their sky-high expectations became even more apparent when they made another coaching move and fired Adrian Griffin despite owning a 30-13 record. They hoped Rivers’ experience would pay off in the postseason.

Yet they still ended up with a second straight first-round loss. The Bucks went 19-23 under Rivers, including a 17-19 mark in the regular season and a 2-4 playoff record.

Part of the problem is that Rivers rarely got to coach his team at full strength. The Bucks had their top three players — Antetokounmpo, Lillard and Middleton — all available for only five of their last 39 games, including the playoffs.

The Bucks are hoping they can benefit next year from spending more time together. Antetokounmpo said he anticipates visiting Lillard in Oregon at some point this summer.

They also believe a more settled offseason could help. The Bucks didn’t acquire Lillard last year until a week before the start of training camp.

“When I look at my performance, I know that I could have done a lot of things better,” Lillard said after Game 6. “And I know that I’m going to have a full season of knowing the coach I’m going to be playing for, having a better idea of the guys that I’m going to be playing with. Being in Milwaukee, I’ve kind of settled into things here.”

But it might not make much of a difference if they encounter more untimely injuries.

“We have to figure out how to stay healthy,” Antetokounmpo said. “We have to ask the question, ‘Can we stay healthy? Can we be on the floor together?’ Because Dame and Giannis and Khris sounds good, but the history has shown that there’s times we’re not on the floor together.”