MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo admits this isn’t how he envisioned the Bucks’ season playing out. At the beginning of the season, Antetokounmpo said he couldn’t have known his team would advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
The landscape of the Eastern Conference changed drastically in the summer of 2018, when LeBron James, who dominated the East for nearly a decade, signed with the Los Angeles Lakers. James’ Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat teams represented the East in the NBA Finals for eight consecutive years. With his move west, the East was suddenly a bit more open.
“I didn’t see it as open,” Antetokounmpo said Thursday. “But now that I look back and see how everything went, it’s definitely open, not having LeBron in the East and not trying to go through him.”
The Bucks are one of the teams that could emerge as the new champions of the James-less East. After beating the Toronto Raptors 108-100 on Wednesday night, Milwaukee holds a 1-0 lead over the Raptors in the series.
As the Bucks navigated the first round against the Detroit Pistons, second round against the Boston Celtics and now the conference finals against the Raptors, James wasn’t top of mind.
“But any time you don’t have to go through LeBron James is going to help your odds,” Bucks guard Pat Connaughton said.
The Bucks spent Thursday watching film as a group. Even though they were able to pull away late and win Game 1, coach Mike Budenholzer wanted to highlight some of the mistakes the Bucks made through the first three quarters.
The Bucks’ starting lineup won’t get a boost from Malcolm Brogdon in Game 2. Even though he played two more minutes than starter Nikola Mirotic, Budenholzer said he doesn’t anticipate Brogdon starting on Friday.
Antetokounmpo said that after watching the tape, he didn’t think any one individual was outstanding in Game 1, but as a collective, “we had a great game.”
“We’re happy,” Antetokounmpo said. “But at the end of the day, our job is not done. We gotta protect our home; we gotta be able to get Game 2.”