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Mike Budenholzer explains controversial Giannis Antetokounmpo strategy

Giannis Antetokounmpo warming up

Oct 23, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) warms up before the game against the San Antonio Spurs at the AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer almost got too big-brained for his own good during Sunday’s playoff opener.

Budenholzer made the decision in Game 1 against the Chicago Bulls to sit star player Giannis Antetokounmpo for some key possessions late. While Antetokounmpo did have five fouls at the time, the unusual strategy sparked some controversy. Budenholzer pulled the two-time MVP from the contest with 1:24 left in the fourth quarter as the Bucks were about to play defense. Antetokounmpo spent four possessions on the bench before re-entering the game with 15.3 seconds remaining. Milwaukee held on to win 93-86 though.

After the game, Budenholzer explained his seemingly odd move.

“We were up three with a free throw and [had] just [kept] him in [to that point],” said Budenholzer, per Eric Nehm of The Athletic. “Had both my timeouts. If they scored, we probably call timeout. Just make sure [Giannis is] there to finish the play, finish an offensive possession. Bobby [Portis] had some good defensive possessions, so just taking away the option of going at [Giannis] and [him] trying to avoid his sixth [foul] to stay in the game. Bobby, those guys, got a great stop. A couple of them.”

The strategy ultimately paid off, and the Bucks did not allow a single point for the rest of the game after Budenholzer pulled Antetokounmpo. But many would argue that you go to war with your best player closing the game no matter what and just trust him not to pick up that sixth foul. While the foul trouble may have made Antetokounmpo more tentative on D, he is still an ex-Defensive Player of the Year that you want out there every single time.

With a 1-0 series lead now on Chicago, Milwaukee is starting their title defense on the right foot. But while Budenholzer’s gameplan worked on Sunday, he might not be so fortunate next time around, especially since other decisions of his have already gone wrong this season.

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