Giannis Antetokounmpo — back from knee injury — does LeBron James impression with chase-down block

·3-min read

Giannis Antetokounmpo's knee looks just fine. 

After the Milwaukee Bucks star was upgraded from doubtful to questionable Tuesday morning, Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes reported shortly before tipoff that he was cleared to play in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The Bucks later confirmed the news.

He showed no signs of injury or rust in his return to the court while tallying 20 points, 17 rebounds and four assists in 35 minutes against the Phoenix Suns. It wasn't enough to secure victory in a 118-105 Phoenix win. But he gave Bucks fans hope that he'll be healthy for the rest of the series — particularly with a first-half play that surely gave some Golden State Warriors fans flashbacks. 

With the final minute of the half ticking down, Antetokounmpo sprinted to find Mikal Bridges and deny the Suns forward what looked like a sure layup with a chase-down block.

The play was reminiscent of LeBron James' famous chase-down block of Andre Iguodala in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, a block some consider the greatest defensive play in NBA history. 

While the stakes weren't quite as high on Tuesday, Antetokounmpo's block was nonetheless impressive — and further encouragement that his knee injury won't linger in the Finals. 

The injury news in the first half wasn't as good for the Suns. Backup center Dario Saric limped back to the locker room after landing awkwardly under the basket and was later ruled out with a right knee injury. But the Suns prevailed thanks largely to a 32-point, nine-assist effort from Chris Paul. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo: 'I thought I would be out for a year'

Antetokounmpo admitted after Game 1 that he initially feared that his season was over and that the knee injury was serious. He also said that he has not watched a replay of the injury.

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He also said that he felt "great" and was pain-free during the game and called his knee "stable." 

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Giannis Antetokounmpo suffered knee injury in ECF

Antetokounmpo hadn't played since suffering a hyperextended left knee in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Atlanta Hawks on June 29. The Bucks won Games 5 and 6 without the two-time league MVP to secure their spot in the NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns. 

He warmed up prior to Tuesday's game before the team made the decision for him to start. 

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While imaging allayed initial fears that Antetokounmpo sustained structural damage after his knee buckled the wrong way, his status for his first NBA Finals remained in doubt until minutes before tipoff. Milwaukee's coaches and training staff were presumably satisfied with how his injured knee responded to pregame activities.

Antetokounmpo has averaged 28.2 points, 12.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists during the postseason. The Suns were listed at BetMGM as -200 favorites to win the NBA championship prior to the news of his return for Game 1. 

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - JULY 06: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks warms up before Game One of the NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns at Phoenix Suns Arena on July 06, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Giannis Antetokounmpo was cleared to play after warming up prior to Game 1 of the NBA Finals. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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