When the Milwaukee Bucks unusually jumped from the playoffs in the second round of the Miami Heat last season in the bubble, one of the biggest criticisms against head coach Mike Budenholzer was that he did not play his best players enough minutes.
Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged just 30.8 minutes, while Khris Middleton finished at 35.5. They were 63 and 33 in minutes per second, respectively. Match during the playoffs. Budenholzer always objected that he wanted his players fresh so they could perform at an optimal level, but this strategy makes far more sense over the regular season than it does in the playoffs.
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This time, 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 in Game 6, did not even play in the second round against the Brooklyn Nets – and Giannis, Middleton and Jrue Holiday routinely played 40-plus minutes one night. All three averaged at least 38.1 minutes per. Match and was among the top 15 in minutes this post season.
The change paid off with a title, but it did not come at no cost. After Game 5 in the final, Giannis showed up for his post-game press conference and then quickly went out and disappeared for 30 minutes. As it turned out, he was so dehydrated that he needed an IV treatment according to one report from Eric Nehm and Sam Amick from The Athletic:
In the midst of all the pleasure there was lingering pain. When Antetokounmpo had come to his press conference after Game 5, he sat with a grimace and said, “I can not” before leaving the room and returning more than 30 minutes later. Occasionally, 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 the competitive match were also there after Game 6, when Antetokounmpo – apparently again experiencing severe discomfort – held his stomach and tapped bottles of Gatorade while recovering between interview stations.
In Game 5, Giannis had put up 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists in 41 minutes. He also threw the game-sealing alley-oop from Holiday after a full-court sprint in the closing seconds. With another masterful performance, he had literally run himself into the ground.
Knowing what we are doing now, this makes his 50-point, 14-rebound, five-block masterpiece a few days later in the series-clinching Game 6 even more remarkable.