NBA

Budenholzer expects returning Antetokounmpo to improve in Game 2 of NBA Finals

Giannis Antetokounmpo feared he would be out for a year but made a rapid recovery to play in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

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NBA Finals 2021: Budenholzer expects fit-again Antetokounmpo to improve in Game 2

Mike Budenholzer says Giannis Antetokounmpo deserves great credit for playing in the NBA Finals opener and expects the Milwaukee Bucks superstar to make a bigger impact in Game 2.

Antetokounmpo revealed he initially feared he would be out for a year after suffering a left knee injury during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks last week.

Yet the two-time MVP was back in action for a 118-105 Game 1 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday.

Antetokounmpo scored 20 points and claimed 17 rebounds in his 35 minutes on court and Budenholzer praised the Greek forward for making such a swift return.

Budenholzer on Antetokounmpo performance

Asked how Antetokounmpo had gone from being doubtful to starting, the Bucks head coach replied: "He had a good workout before the game. I think you've got to listen to Giannis first. He felt good.

"The sports performance group felt good, he had been checking boxes the last couple days and making progress and so he was cleared, and he wanted to go and everybody was on the same page.

"It's just a credit to him. And we talked, just the work he puts in, the work the sports performance group puts in, for him to be back playing in Game 1, it's really impressive what he did."

Budenholzer was encouraged by Antetokounmpo and is looking forward to seeing what he can do in Game 2 at Phoenix Suns Arena on Thursday.

He said: "I think there were a lot of good things, considering five days and what he's been through these last five, six, seven days.

"I think 17 rebounds, 20 points, some great playmaking, passing, defending the rim, he's just like everybody else. I'm sure we'll find some things where he could be better.

"I think it usually takes him playing - he's a rhythm guy. So, I'm excited about how he'll improve from Game 1 to Game 2. We'll see how he feels. But I think play-wise, he always gets better when he plays."

Chris Paul – making the first Finals appearance of his stellar career – posted 32 points and nine assists, while Devin Booker added 27 points and Deandre Ayton finished with 22 points and 19 rebounds in a strong start for the Suns.

Veteran Paul became the third player ever aged 36 or older to score 30-plus points in a Finals game, after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Tim Duncan.