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Giannis’ future and Lowry’s heroics

Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The dust is slowly starting to settle on the end of Milwaukee’s season, and on top of their disappointment from a second-round exit, the entire fanbase now has to listen to trade rumors that will run wild for the foreseeable future.

Just today I saw a rumor that the Warriors wouldn’t hesitate to offer Andrew Wiggins and the No. 2 overall pick for Giannis - you can’t make this stuff up. All of this is just noise at this point, as we won’t truly know what Giannis will do until the Bucks come to the table with a super-max extension offer that will approach $220M this fall, roughly $80M more than any other team can offer in free agency of 2021.

If he’s willing to leave $80M on the table, it’s pretty safe to say he will already have one foot out the door. Even that won’t persuade the Bucks to trade him in that scenario though, as ESPN’s Tim Bontemps is reporting that they will do everything in their power to change his mind in the final year of his deal. And yes, that means they would risk letting him walk for nothing.

Giannis did give Milwaukee fans some hope though, hinting pretty strongly that his focus is still on bringing a championship to the franchise. “Hopefully we can learn from this and get better as a team,” Giannis said. “… Hopefully we can build a culture in Milwaukee for many years that we can come out here and compete every single year for a championship.”

He also shot down the idea of pulling an Anthony Davis and demanding a trade. “It’s not happening. That’s not happening,” Antetokounmpo said to Yahoo’s Chris Haynes. “Some see a wall and go in [another direction]. I plow through it. We just have to get better as a team, individually and get right back at it next season.”[[ad:athena]]

Giannis is one of the most humble players in the NBA and has always been adamant about staying with the Bucks for his career, so I tend to believe him here. That doesn’t mean the Bucks can be complacent though, and this front office has some work to do to redeem themselves for some pretty horrific decisions the past couple seasons — they cut Christian Wood for Tim Frazier(!) last season and then opted to extend Eric “I disappear in playoffs” Bledsoe instead of Malcolm Brogdon.

Then there’s coach Mike Budenholzer, whose stubbornness and unwillingness to quickly adapt vs. the Heat was his downfall. He ruined the confidence of regular-season X factor Donte DiVincenzo, and his refusal to play his studs big minutes was baffling. While I don’t think a change is inevitable, I don’t think it’s unlikely either and it may come down to what Giannis wants. And while it’s unfair to put that on his shoulders, that just comes with the territory of being an MVP entering the prime of his career with free agency looming.

As for what I think will happen, I believe the Bucks will regroup around Giannis, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Donte DiVincenzo while using the No. 24 overall pick to unload Eric Bledsoe’s contract for an upgrade in the backcourt. Bledsoe shooting 28% on his catch-and-shoot triples for his career as a Buck offsets his defensive capabilities, so getting someone to stretch the floor while Giannis continues to develop his outside shooting will be the key to Milwaukee taking the next step. One idea I’d like to see is Chris Paul in Milwaukee, though I’m not sure the Thunder would even pick up the phone unless a player like DiVincenzo is included.

This will be fascinating to watch unfold and the cool thing about the NBA is that anything can happen.

Raptors 125, Celtics 122 (series tied 3-3)

Not to take anything away from Boston because they played a great game, but you got to love the fight that this Toronto team has shown. Time and time again they found themselves trailing the Celtics including the fourth quarter and both overtimes, but Kyle Lowry had other ideas. He nailed an acrobatic 14-footer with 12 seconds to play and ended up with a monster line of 33 points, eight rebounds, six assists, two steals, one block and six triples. He played 53 minutes which simultaneously made Tom Thibodeau smile and sent a chill down Mike Budenholzer’s spine, and walked away from the game with three stitches to show for it after an elbow to the chin.

Lowry was once slandered as a poor playoff performer but those days are long gone as he continues to carve out his face on the Mount Rushmore of Raptor all-time greats. Norman Powell was the second most important Raptor this evening, especially in overtime, racking up 23 points and three triples on 6-of-11 shooting. Fred VanVleet shook off a slow start for a 21/9/7 line with two steals, two blocks and three triples, reminding us all that he’ll be worth every penny this summer when he gets a lucrative deal this offseason -- we already know the Suns and Pistons are eyeing him up.

Marc Gasol was sporting a fresh haircut but resembled a traffic cone in the first half which has been the case for most of the series, but he came alive in the second half for eight points with a pair of big triples. However, Serge Ibaka (ankle) was in a walking boot on Tuesday and still looked like twice the player, scoring 13 points with three triples and three blocks in 28 minutes. With a pivotal Game 7 coming up, I can see the Raptors making a switch here.

Lastly for Toronto, they need to figure out why Pascal Siakam has turned into a poor man’s Kyle Kuzma in this series. He was 5-of-19 from the field and missed all five of his triples, and some of the looks he was missing were warm-up layup line shots. He’s now a combined 4-of-31 from deep in this series, but his half court offense has been just as bad. Coach Nick Nurse did say that he thinks Siakam is close to finding his form again, but if he doesn’t have it going early in Game 7 it makes sense to just let Lowry and FVV initiate everything.

“I’m not saying it’s there, but it’s getting closer,” Nurse said about Siakam. “There’s a possibility that it could get there when the ball goes up Friday.”

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown led the way for Boston, scoring a combined 60 points on 20-of-51 shooting, offsetting a poor shooting night for Kemba Walker (five points on 2-of-11 shots). Walker also got taken to the cleaners on the defensive end with Lowry using his size advantage and relentlessly taking him to the post.

If I’m Boston I’m putting Marcus Smart on Lowry in Game 7, although both players might foul each other out in five minutes with how much flopping we’ve seen this series. Jokes aside, Smart is the X factor in this series and he was absolutely the MVP tonight, putting up a 23/11/10 triple-double with one steal and six triples. With 22 triples through six games, Smart has solidified himself as one of the best two-way role players in the bubble.

Game 7 is set for Friday and it’s shaping up to be an instant classic.

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Clippers 96, Nuggets 85 (Clippers leading 3-1)

This game was a snooze fest so we’re not going to waste much ink here. Credit to Clippers coach Doc Rivers for another adjustment as he completely removed Reggie Jackson from the rotation in order to let Pat Beverley spend more time alongside Lou Williams to shore up his defensive liabilities. Rivers also trimmed Sixth Man of the Year Montreal Harrell’s minutes once again in favor of Ivica Zubac (11 points, nine rebounds and two blocks in 30 minutes), as he realizes that Zubac is the only player on the roster that can make Nikola Jokic sweat.

Paul George (10 points on 4-of-10 FGs) had a letdown of a game but I think a bounce back is coming, as Rivers has him spending more time with the second unit to keep the team afloat when Kawhi Leonard gets a breather. Speaking of Kawhi, he had a Jordan-esque line of 30 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists, four steals, two blocks and two triples, but that’s nothing new for a player who has only had one bad game inside the bubble so far (Game 2 of this series).

Jokic is doing everything he can for the Nuggets and had a 26/11/6 line, but Jamal Murray has not found the form he had in Round 1. Murray finished 6-of-15 from the field for 18 points and is now averaging just 17.8 points on 38% shooting this series. Paul Millsap, who is laughably making $30M this year, played 14 minutes for three points. Three points... The Nuggets are likely heading home soon and remain one or two pieces away from being a serious title threat, especially with Gary Harris’ decline.

Notes from around the NBA

Robert Covington has been cleared to play in Game 4 on Thursday according to coach Mike D’Antoni. The Rockets listed him as questionable on the injury report as a precaution, as he’s only dealing with a slight headache now — ESPN’s Tim MacMahon reported that he doesn’t have a broken nose and that a concussion was ruled out. Covington has been a beast in the postseason so far, averaging 12.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.3 blocks, 2.6 steals and 3.2 triples on 51.2% shooting. The modern day version of Shawn Marion will be ranked inside my top-40 for 9-cat next season for obvious reasons.

We got some bubble drama late Wednesday night when ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Danuel House’ status for the rest of the second round was in jeopardy after he may have breached safety protocols. House has denied it though, and the NBA and NBPA are currently discussing the next steps. House’ absence was clearly felt in Game 3, as Austin Rivers and Ben McLemore combined to shoot 0-of-4 in 21 minutes. Also, cue the memes about LeBron snitching.

Add Chauncey Billups to the growing list of candidates for the Indiana head coaching job. ESPN reported over a dozen candidates early Wednesday morning with Spurs assistant Becky Hammon and former Kings head coach Dave Joerger being the headliners, but whoever lands the job will be walking into a tricky situation — The Pacers need to decide if they are going to commit a fortune to a Victor Oladipo who was a shadow of himself this season after his quad injury in January of 2019. Plus, you have to wonder about the job security after they ousted a very successful Nate McMillan despite giving him an extension a few weeks prior.