Just one week after appearing to suffer a serious injury to his left knee, Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo took the court to start Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Listed as doubtful pregame, Antetokounmpo completed on court warm ups and and was cleared to play.
Despite losing Game 1, the presence of the two-time MVP is a significant boost moving forward in the series, with his movement appearing to be without limitation for the most part when attacking the basket in trademark fashion.
"It felt great. Obviously, I try not to make it about me but it felt great," Antetokounmpo said postgame after tallying 20 points and 17 rebounds.
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"The medical staff cleared me to play and out there I had my balance, felt my knee was stable, felt no pain so I felt good."
This #PhantomCam angle of Giannis' chasedown block! #ThatsGame #NBAFinals on ABC pic.twitter.com/f3TkHeTPlV- NBA (@NBA) July 7, 2021
By his own admission, he initially didn't expect to play again this season, with significant swelling in his left knee the day after the incident occurred in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
"When the play happened, I thought I would be out for a year. So, I'm just happy two games later I'm back."
Historically a quick healer, Antetokounmpo's tireless work ethic and commitment to rehab enhanced his chances of a shock return.
"Treatment, lifting, on the court. 24 hours a day, obviously it wasn't easy. The medical staff had a great program for me."
"It was tough. I had to do my best to get back. Listen to my medical staff, I did the right treatment, took care of my body and supported my teammates."
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"From my treatment, from lifting, to getting on the court, pool sessions, keeping my foot elevated. It was 24 hours a day. Obviously, it wasn't easy but I was willing to do it and I think the medical staff had a great program for me. They declared me to play and I felt good, felt no pain and the swelling was down so I was good to go."
Head coach Mike Budenholzer was pleased with the first up performance from his star, with the Bucks now in a familiar position of trailing 1-0 for the third consecutive series.
"He had a good workout before the game. He felt good, the sports performance group, he'd been checking boxes the last couple days and making progress, he was cleared and he wanted to go and everyone was on the same page," Budenholzer said.
The Greek Freak in his Finals debut:- Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) July 7, 2021
20 PTS | 17 REB | 4 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK pic.twitter.com/w7sKKYgI49
"It's a credit to him, we talk about the work he puts in, the work the sports performance group puts in for him to be back playing in Game 1. It's really impressive what he did."
"I thought there were a lot of good things considering what he's been through these last five, six, seven days. 17 rebounds, 20 points, some great playmaking, passing, defending the rim, he's just like everyone else, I'm sure we can find some things where he can be better. Usually, it takes him playing, he's a rhythm guy so I'm excited to see how he'll improve from Game 1 to Game 2. We'll see how he feels but I think play wise he always gets better when he plays."
Despite the disappointment of a series-opening loss, Antetokounmpo drew a smile when asked about the experience of making his Finals debut. An opportunity that looked lost only a few days earlier.
"It felt good. Just wearing the jacket and seeing the Finals logo. Obviously, we didn't get the win but it's good to be here, good to enjoy the moment and the games. You can never take it for granted. Just try to make the best out of it. We've worked hard all year to have an opportunity to win a championship and we're going to keep working hard and put ourselves in a position to win."
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