Falling behind 0-2 wasn’t an option for reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
In a spirited Game 2 performance versus the Orlando Magic on Thursday, Antetokounmpo responded with 28 points, 20 rebounds and 5 assists to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to a 111-96 victory, evening the first-round series at 1-1.
“I think the whole team was ready for this game. You’ve got to understand, you don’t want to be down 2-0,” Antetokounmpo said. “We can still get back, but you don’t want to put yourself in that position, especially early in the playoffs. We knew that we had to come out and just play hard, try to get a win; and as a team, we knew for us to get a win we gotta play hard.
“We cannot talk about it; we gotta play about it.”
Antetokounmpo played a shade under 32 minutes, the fewest by any player in a 25-point, 20-rebound playoff game since minutes were first tracked in 1951-52, according to Elias Sports Bureau data. The previous mark was 36 minutes by Kevin Garnett in Game 1 of the Minnesota Timberwolves‘ 2004 first-round series against the Denver Nuggets, per ESPN Stats & Information research.
Antetokounmpo also is the first player with at least 25 points, 20 rebounds and 5 assists in a playoff game since Dirk Nowitzki accomplished the feat on May 19, 2006.
Antetokounmpo joins Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only Bucks players with a 20-point, 20-rebound game in the playoffs. Abdul-Jabbar did it 18 times with the Bucks.
The Bucks have come to expect these strong offensive games from their leader, but it was the defensive effort that set the tone. Milwaukee pulled ahead after forcing the Magic to shoot 3-for-24 (12.5%) in the first quarter, which was the second-worst rate by any team in the first quarter of a playoff game over the past 20 seasons. The Boston Celtics shot 10.5% in 2018, also against the Bucks.
Thursday’s effort was inspired by an intense film session by Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer.
“If we want to win and if we want to go far and if we want to be us, we’ve got to play defense,” Antetokounmpo said. “We didn’t do that in the first game. So, I think everybody took that personally, nobody liked that. Nobody wants to hear that he’s not playing hard enough, so I think the whole team came out and played hard.”