The Milwaukee Bucks are on the verge of getting swept out of the playoffs. After finishing the regular season with the best record in the NBA, the Bucks have proved light work for the Miami Heat on a neutral court. The most glaring, obvious, apparent problem for the Bucks is that MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing regular-season minutes.
In Game 3, Giannis played fewer minutes than Brook Lopez. He also played fewer minutes than Kris Middleton, who fouled out. If you want an idea of the kind of minutes Giannis played this year, know that he played more in the All-Star game than he averaged on the season.
The Bucks had a 91-87 lead when Giannis checked out with 8:41 remaining in the 4th. When he returned with 6:51 remaining, the lead had been cut to one. The Heat would score 23 of the final 30 points of the game. And that obviously ruined his plus/minus for the night. A problem that sometimes happens when a team loses.
Who would have thought the best player on the team that lost all three of those games might not have a great plus/minus? Crazy. And it's great that Giannis had such an incredibly efficient season. But is anyone going to care about that season if he goes out without a fight in the second round?
Giannis played 36:36 in a Game 1 loss, he played 35:39 in a Game 2 loss and 34:55 in Game 3. He's literally played fewer minutes as the series went on and the Bucks fell deeper into a hole. Does it matter how efficient his 29 points and 14 rebounds in Game 2 is? I'm thinking that might be a little less memorable than the photoshop of the Bucks fishing with brooms on TNT today if they lose Game 4.
Six players in the Raptors - Celtics game played 41+ minutes in an incredibly important Game 4 on Saturday night. Obviously, some of those players did not have a great +/- to brag about because one team had to lose. That's how basketball works.
To cherrypick some more +/- numbers, let's remember that LeBron James was -17 through the first four games of the 2016 NBA Finals. Did he play less as the Cavs erased the infamous 3-1 deficit? Over the next three games, LeBron played 42:38, 42:35 and 46:49 minutes respectively.
During the '19 playoffs, Kawhi Leonard was a combined -23 as the Raptors fell down 0-2 against the Milwaukee Bucks. He then played 52 minutes in Game 3 as Toronto got back into the series. It might also be worth mentioning that Kawhi was a -2 in both Game 7 against the Sixers and Game 6 against the Warriors. You may recall Kawhi Leonard's team won both of those games.
And don't talk about injuries. Everyone is banged up and tired and distracted and misses their home right now. If Giannis can play 36 minutes with whatever is bothering him, he should be able to play 42 or more.
This could be it for Giannis with Milwaukee. An embarrassing loss like this is the kind of thing that convinces a superstar that maybe they can't do it in one city their entire career. Who knows what kind of texts Draymond has been sending Giannis or how many bottles of wine CJ McCollum left behind for Giannis to taste.
So Giannis can pack it in and stick with coach's rotation today or he can step up and play the minutes required to win in the postseason. History very clearly says that the best players play more in the postseason. It doesn't always result in championships - unfortunately only one team wins each season - but this is how it works. For one final example, Charles Barkley averaged 36.7 mpg in his career in the regular season. He averaged 39.4 minutes in the postseason, including 42.8 minutes a game the season the Suns made it to the NBA Finals. In the 1993 NBA Finals, his plus/minus was zero.
The Bucks can either put Giannis in a position to win or they can spend the next few months reading about how Toronto, Miami, Golden State and New York all think they have a legitimate chance to steal him away. I mean, we'll hear those stories anyway, but if the Bucks get swept one of them is a lot more likely to come true.
Giannis has one more season on his current deal worth a very team-friendly $27 million. There aren't even 12 full months left on that contract. Who knows how fresh the sting of this loss will feel when the Bucks contact his agent about that extension. If the Bucks get swept, they'll probably wish they had a few more minutes for him to forget.