In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals between the Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls, Khris Middleton, one of the Bucks’ best and most important players, went down with a sprained MCL.
The Bucks lost the contest, 114-110, and their prospects of repeating as NBA world champions became murky, especially with the series moving to Illinois.
Middleton is expected to be out for at least two weeks, which means that he could possibly miss all of the next round of the playoffs if Milwaukee makes it there.
But without him, the Bucks dominated the Bulls in Game 3, 111-81, and although Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t have one of his greatest games, he made his presence felt.
This is his chance to prove that he is really worthy of the National Basketball Association’s MVP award, regardless of how the balloting for the honor actually goes.
Antetokounmpo Has A Very Strong Case Already For Being The Best In The World
The Greek Freak has already won two regular-season MVP awards and the NBA Finals MVP last year, and his numbers and performance this season make a strong case for him winning the 2021-22 MVP trophy.
He averaged 29.9 points, 11.6 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.4 blocked shots per game this year while making 55.3 percent of his shots from the field.
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid may be more dominant in the low post, and the Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokić, last year’s MVP winner, is a better passer, but Antetokounmpo is a better all-around player than both of them on either end of the floor.
Giannis Antetokounmpo in a clutch win against the 76ers
MVP & DPOY pic.twitter.com/kK66xhPBfz
— 𝙆𝙨𝙤 (@IcyKso) March 30, 2022
In Game 3 on Friday, he was relatively quiet, contributing 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field, seven rebounds and nine assists in 29 minutes, which seem like weak numbers by his standards.
But his best wasn’t needed, as the Bucks got out to a 33-17 lead at the end of the first quarter and never looked back.
Giannis got it done on both ends of the floor for the @Bucks in their Game 3 W! #FearTheDeer@Giannis_An34: 18 PTS, 7 REB, 9 AST
Game 4: BUCKS/BULLS, Sun. 1pm/et on ABC pic.twitter.com/3g7M4cFJrs
— NBA (@NBA) April 23, 2022
Having taken a 2-1 series lead and regained the home-court advantage, Milwaukee is back in the driver’s seat in this series, and given that the Bulls apparently don’t know how to win or close yet, perhaps Antetokounmpo won’t have to kick things into fifth gear for a little while.
The Next Round Could Be Antetokounmpo’s Opportunity
If the Bucks get past the Bulls, they will face either the Boston Celtics or Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Both squads feature a duo of talented and skilled stars who can put up points in bunches: Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown for the Celtics, and Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant for the Nets.
In addition, the Celtics boast one of pro basketball’s best defenses, while Brooklyn has several complementary role players who can go off and hurt its opposition such as Seth Curry and Patty Mills.
With Middleton unlikely to be able to return for the start of either potential matchup, Antetokounmpo will be matched up versus two other MVP-caliber players in Tatum and Durant.
If he outplays them, or at least plays them to a draw, while leading the Bucks to a series advantage or win when Middleton is cleared to play, Antetokounmpo will make an undeniable impression in the minds of all.