The Brooklyn Nets beat the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Saturday night. James Harden left the game with a hamstring injury moments after tip-off and did not return. In his absence, Kyrie Irving played 45 minutes, Kevin Durant played 40 minutes, Blake Griffin played 35 minutes and Joe Harris played 34. Meanwhile, Giannis Antetokounmpo was third on the Bucks behind Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, playing 35 minutes.
Here we go again.
We just went through this in September before an injury made his playing time a moot point. Load management goes out the window in the postseason.
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, who have both won titles before, know this. Steve Nash obviously understands this. I'm guessing if Harden hadn't been hurt, the Nets' big three would have all been around 40 minutes. With him out we got 30 minutes from Mike James, who had played 10 minutes total in the Boston series.
Just look at LeBron James, who was just eliminated in the first round for the first time in his career. Without Anthony Davis, the Lakers really needed LeBron to be LeBron. The guy who averaged 41.5 minutes per game in the playoffs throughout his career. He's led the league in minutes per game in the postseason four times. When the Cavs fell behind 3-1 in the 2016 Finals, LeBron played 43+ minutes a night over the last three games and sat just one minute and eleven seconds in Game 7. Facing elimination this season, LeBron managed just over 41 minutes.
During last year's title run, LeBron played his fewest minutes per game in the postseason at 36.3. This year it was 37.3. In the bubble, with a healthy Davis and a lack of close games (just 9 of 21 games were decided by single digits and just two came down to the buzzer), it didn't matter. This year it clearly did as the Lakers needed LeBron and he just couldn't do it, despite still being pretty damn great.
This is LeBron's 18th season. He's 36 years old and played the sixth most minutes in NBA history. He's finally trending towards being a regular human. He should be tired.
Giannis, a decade younger and coming off a regular season where he played fewer minutes a night than LeBron or Kevin Durant have at any point in their careers, needs to play superstar minutes. This is the eye test, common sense and a very simple statistic (minutes played) combined. The best players need to play as many minutes as they can to win in the postseason.
And don't try to point to the final score or the fact that Giannis left the game with 3:40 remaining. It was a six-point game headed into the fourth quarter and he was already half a quarter behind KD and Kyrie in playing time.
So this had better change in Game 2 now that he sat the final minutes to rest while Durant and Kyrie probably played a couple of minutes too many. The Bucks' backs are now against the wall. They need to win four out of six games against a really talented team.
If Mike Budenholzer can't figure this out by Monday, I don't know what to tell you. Except that the Bucks will probably lose the series.