Boston – It is strange because of its size, height, length, and the way these limbs are arranged in beautiful harmony.
But the other weird part about Giannis Antikonmo? Its amazing ability equals its chronic availability.
He is a human being, after all, of flesh and blood, though you seldom see either helplessly barefoot on earth. Giannis is almost indestructible in this way, which makes him a rarity in the NBA today: a star who plays with and through contact, yet rarely gets hurt.
There was a moment in the Bucks’ Eastern Conference’s Game 1 semifinal round series with the Celtics that would shake other players to the bone. Giannis collided with Daniel Theis, who was all muscular and tattooed, and fell remarkably hard. so what happened? Giannis removed the pain, if anything, and jumped to his feet. Meanwhile, none of the bucks showed the slightest bit of concern.
Although he deals with ankle and wrist pain, which is more annoying than anything else, Giannis plays and plays, only laughing when someone brings up the topic.
“First of all, I live on physical strength,” he said. “I love the feeling of being beaten up after matches.”
He laughed again.
“You might think I’m weird.”
In fact, like a nature freak. Giannis has suffered a near-serious injury only once in his nine-year career – a little more than that – which is somewhat unusual, given the amount of attention he attracts near the hoop and the number of times he’s landed. He’s up against Anthony Davis in that respect, a superstar who always finds a way to play and a franchise player who isn’t used to managing the load.
The list of unlucky stars and players is long: Steph Curry, LeBron James (recently, at least), Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Joel Embiid, etc. He falls prey to something. Only Nikola Jokic can match the Giannis in terms of durability and reliability.
Much of this is due to Giannis’ physical development. As a newbie, he was skinny, just a bunch of limbs flying everywhere. Since then, Giannis has added muscle without mass while maintaining his athletic ability.
“He’s a fantastic talent and someone who takes care of himself and prepares himself the right way,” said Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer.
Also, once he became a perennial superstar, the Bucks didn’t run him into the grounds. His matches are not run, only his minutes. Giannis averaged only 32 minutes per game during his career, which is a light load compared to other players of his level. Instead of sitting outside games, Giannis only plays when needed, and not much more.
Keep in mind Giannis, with the ball, plays on the slopes – constantly charging in the basket, with occasional body twists, pulling contact. That should increase the chance of something happening, right? Well, on the one hand, yes: Over the past five years, he’s averaged nearly 10 free throw attempts per game, which is a testament to his ability to make mistakes. However, it rises off the ground every time.
Until last spring, when he didn’t. Who could forget how Giannis sent chills through Milwaukee when he picked up a severe left knee injury in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks? The graphic fall, instant knee grab, and facial expression let you know this wasn’t just a bump. Giannis didn’t complete that streak—the Bucks won anyway, accidentally aided by Tre Young’s odd injury when he stepped on the referee’s foot—and Giannis’ standing in the NBA Finals initially was in doubt.
He played anyway – he never missed a game, in fact – and got stronger and steadier as that streak went on, closing in on The Suns elegantly by the 50’s.
And now this season, aside from annoying issues, Giannis appears determined to repeat last year’s version of the title. He didn’t miss a playoff and once again got very active on both ends of the floor, especially at the edge, where the connection is constant. He averaged more rebounds (13.3), assists (7.2) and blocks (1.5) than he did in the last season. Meanwhile, Dollars is dealing with Chris Middleton’s absence.
Because of that, Giannis’ influence has become even greater for the Bucks, especially his improved passing and court awareness, allowing his teammates to have an open look.
Giannis’ ability to stay upright will be tested against the Celtics. Not only are they a great defensive team, they bring in size with Theiss, Robert Williams III and Al Horford. That’s not to say any of those three will slow Giannis – as he showed in the first game, he’s a different challenge than what the Celtics saw in the first round with Kevin Durant – but he will absorb his fair share of connection.
With the second game on Tuesday approaching (7 ET, TNT), the Celtics are in a must-win position only to avoid losing twice at home against a knockout club Milwaukee and Giannis looked as great as ever.
As much as Giannis has been in the past five years, creating a status for himself – with two Kia MVPs, Kia Defensive Player of the Year, Championship and MVP in the Finals – that he’s the number one talent in the game, none of this matters if he doesn’t fit in.
If the best ability is availability, Giannis wins on two fronts. The best player in the game can’t be stopped or slowed down as it turns out.
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Sean Powell has covered the NBA for over 25 years. You can email him here, find his archive here and follow him Twitter.
The opinions expressed on this page do not necessarily reflect those of the National Basketball Association, its clubs, or Turner Broadcasting.