COVID-19 hit the U.S. Olympic Team earlier this week, and now the virus has struck the NBA Finals. And it could have major ramifications if the NBA follows CDC protocols.
The Bucks’ Thanasis Antetokounmpo, the brother of superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, was placed in COVID-19 protocol Saturday before the Bucks’ 123-119 Game 5 win over the Suns. In addition, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer lost one of his assistants, Josh Oppenheimer, to contact tracing.
Giannis Antetokounmpo battled cramps after Game 5, according to the Bucks, and was unable to comment while he received treatment.
“It was extremely difficult for him not to be here to cheer for the team,’’ Giannis said returning to talk to the media after receiving treatment. “He gives the team a lot of energy and the team feels it. As much as it hurts, we still got to do our job and I Facetimed him after the game.’’
Giannis, who embraced Thanasis (a 2014 Knicks draft pick) for about 15 seconds before taking the court for Wednesday’s Game 4, played and finished with 32 points. Players are tested multiple times a day so tests on Giannis presumably have come back negative. But the virus sometimes takes days to show up on a test after exposure.
Budenholzer tried not to sound worried as the country goes through an uptick.
“I think the health and safety protocols are on the front of everybody’s minds right now,’’ Budenholzer said before the game. “Certainly those two guys’ connection [the Antetokounmpos] and the closeness, everybody knows it. But you know, I think we’re all good. We’re all ready.’’
Suns coach Monty Williams wore a mask at his pregame presser Saturday for the first time in The Finals. Phoenix point guard Chris Paul missed the first two games of the Western Conference finals because of a COVID-19 positive.
Williams was asked, with all the pressures of The Finals, what does he do in his spare time. “Who do you write for, Boring.com?,’’ Williams quipped. “You don’t want to know what I do in my spare time.’’
Williams, a 1994 Knicks first-round pick, had a another classic remark before Game 5 with the series knotted at two games apiece. “Doc [Rivers] sent me a text a week or so ago and he kind of hit it on the head: Pressure is a privilege. We want to be in this position, as hard as it is, this is what you want. You’re not going to find greatness on a beach. You’re going to find it in the struggle.’’
Before the Finals began, LeBron James said he would be paying close attention to this series because he “has a horse in the race” — Suns point guard Chris Paul. And James has been in Paul’s ear, advising him and even showed up in the front row Saturday. After all, James has been to nine NBA Finals, with four championships, including last year’s bubble title.
“We talk,’’ Paul said before Game 5. “ I got a number of guys that I talk to. Bron, I was there with him in the Finals when he played against the Spurs. We’re always shooting texts here and there. Whether it’s him, whether it’s Melo [Carmelo Anthony], Dwyane Wade. That’s what you do with friends.’’