MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo’s faith in his team remained unshaken after Thursday night’s 105-99 loss by the Bucks in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. Sure, the loss gave the Raptors a 3-2 series lead. Sure, the Bucks had never trailed in this series.
But when Antetokounmpo was asked whether the Bucks were going to crumple the way the Boston Celtics did in the conference semifinals, he shot back with a stern answer.
“We’re not gonna fold,” Antetokounmpo vowed, cutting off the question. “We’re the best team in the league. We’re gonna go in, give it everything we got. We can’t fold. We’re gonna come back to Milwaukee being pissed.”
Like the Celtics, who won the first game of their series with Milwaukee before losing the next four, the Bucks have fallen into a hole in the conference finals after winning the first two games, dropping three straight to Toronto.
The Bucks had several opportunities to take control of Thursday’s game. They jumped out to a 10-point lead after the first quarter and led by three at the half.
The game came down to the last two minutes. Antetokounmpo slammed down an alley-oop from Malcolm Brogdon with 2 minutes, 6 seconds left to trim the Raptors’ lead to one.
The Bucks’ bench jumped up in celebration, and it seemed, for a moment, as though this game could go either way.
On the next possession, Kawhi Leonard missed a 3-pointer. As Antetokounmpo and Leonard jostled for the rebound, Antetokounmpo landed awkwardly on his right ankle and inadvertently fouled the Raptors star.
Antetokounmpo headed to the bench, walking gingerly on his ankle. He had tweaked the same ankle during the regular season. With the Greek Freak on the bench, the Raptors built a three-point lead. A series of late mistakes, most notably a turnover by Brogdon and a missed jumper by Khris Middleton, proved costly.
Antetokounmpo finished with 24 points, 6 assists and 6 rebounds. Eric Bledsoe had 20 points for the Bucks.
While questions swirled about why Antetokounmpo wasn’t on the court for some of the game’s late pivotal minutes, Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said he didn’t think twice about Antetokounmpo’s sitting. Lowry told ESPN it was clear he tweaked his ankle.
“One thing about Giannis, he’s been playing his ass off,” Lowry said. “I would never blame Giannis for anything. Sometimes shots are just missed, turnovers happen, it’s the game. Why does there have to be blame? Giannis is going to be [one of] the best one, two or three players in the league for the next 10 years.”
After the game, the Bucks’ locker room was subdued. Antetokounmpo sat icing his feet and eating a postgame snack. Eventually, he put a protective compression sleeve on his right ankle. He sternly declined to make small talk. George Hill and Bledsoe left in a hurry without speaking to reporters.
Antetokounmpo brushed off questions about his ankle, saying it felt “fine” and he “doesn’t remember” what exactly transpired that led to rolling it.
He insisted the Game 5 loss didn’t feel different from any other loss this season.
“I just want to win,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think we had a chance to win it, but we didn’t. Obviously, I’m pissed. I am not gonna lie to you. We got two more games to go.”
Now the Bucks head into more uncharted territory: trailing heading into Game 6 on the road.
ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan contributed to this report.