It was a stark reminder of what life in the NBA could be like for the Milwaukee Bucks without Giannis Antetokounmpo.
On Wednesday night, the Bucks played the Pacers in Indianapolis without the Greek Freak and were totally dismantled.
The Pacers seized control of the game early and moved to a commanding 24-point advantage in the first half. The Bucks mounted an admirable rally before the Pacers reasserted themselves for a 118-111 victory.
With Antetokounmpo out, the Pacers clearly focused on keeping the Bucks’ next two best players – Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe – in check. And they did.
Middleton managed 17 points but shot a dismal 6 for 17 from the field. Bledsoe was equally ineffective, finishing with 15 points while misfiring on seven of his 11 shots.
Without the extraordinarily talented Antetoukounmpo, the Bucks got exposed by a good but hardly great Pacers team. Without their superstar, the Bucks are just a middle-of-the-road team, a fringe playoff team at best.
Of course, there’s a legion of Bucks fans and even Bucks officials who will dispute that contention. Some will also contend the Bucks are the most talented team in Adam Silver’s kingdom.
And inevitably they’ll support their case by throwing out this: 5-0. That was the Bucks’ record this season going into Wednesday’s game when Antetokounmpo didn’t play.
What they conveniently fail to mention is the teams the Bucks defeated and their records:
- Sacramento (21-33).
- New Orleans (23-31).
- Washington (20-33).
- Atlanta (15-41)
- Orlando (24-31).
In case you didn’t notice, all of those aforementioned teams don’t have a winning record. They are among the dregs of the league. With the exception of Orlando, which is clinging on to the eighth and final playoff spot in the pathetic Eastern Conference, all of them will be participating in the Draft Lottery instead of the playoffs.
That’s not the case with Indiana. The Pacers have a winning record (32-23), thanks in large measure to the Bucks who foolishly traded Malcolm Brogdon to them to avoid paying a luxury tax.
For now, or as long as Antetokounmpo stays healthy, plays to his MVP level and decides to remain in Milwaukee, the Bucks will continue residing in the NBA’s high-rent district.
But if he doesn’t, they’ll be moving back into the middle-class neighborhood — with games like Wednesday night’s debacle against the Pacers becoming more of the norm than the exception.