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Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Calf Joins Doc Rivers’s Reputation In The Infirmary

Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks sits injured on the court during the second half of a game against the Boston Celtics on April 09, 2024 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

As a coach, Doc Rivers is considered a superb baritone, and thus has it been for most of the past 15 years, back to 2009, the year after the Boston Celtics won their last championship—the year that they blew a 3-2 series lead in the second round against Orlando, and the year before they blew a 3-2 series lead in the 2010 Finals. Since then, he has been cuffed around as the model for Can't-Win-The-Big-One fashions, with the Los Angeles Clippers, Philadelphia 76ers, and now the Milwaukee Bucks. He was condemned the day he signed on to replace player non-favorite Adrian Griffin, and the Bucks since then have been condemned in tandem as soft, unfocused and underachieving—while all this time the Bucks have been the second-best team in the Celtics Conference. 

But nobody has ever considered the possibility that maybe the good Doctor may simply be cursed. The Bucks keep making people think they aren't all that—even though their roster and record suggest that they're pretty damned that—especially over the past two weeks, in which they've lost six of their last seven and their last four at home. Thus, Tuesday's showdown against Boston didn't figure to turn out as it did, with Milwaukee's most comfortable victory in more than a month. They led by double digits for the last 42 minutes of the game en route to a 104-91 victory, the Celtics' worst loss in three months—since, that is, a 135-102 loss at, you guessed it, Milwaukee. That was two weeks before Griffin was fired and three weeks before Rivers was hired to take the Bucks back to the championship.

Tuesday night was by all accounts Milwaukee at its best, until we were reminded, by the following, that someone has it in for Doc:

Yes, that was Giannis Antetokounmpo, the person who most defines the Bucks in power and frustration, being viciously attacked either by Derrick White's thought waves or by a seemingly innocuous but clearly malicious free-throw line. The injury was eventually described as a left calf strain—the Bucks confirmed this morning that Giannis's Achilles tendon is intact—but what it really was was a shiv to the gut of Doc Rivers's latest attempt at rescuing his reputation.

Not that you should care about that, necessarily. It is far more worrisome that the second-best team in the Eastern Conference could end up a first round loser to either the flawed Miami Heat or untrustworthy Philadelphia 76ers, and all because Antetokounmpo could either miss that series or be working on one leg and change. Giannis is too fun to have his season end here, or at less than his best. Milwaukee without Giannis is the Chicago Bulls, who do stuff like this:

And you know who will be blamed if the worst-case scenario comes to be, don't you? It will be the guy who was hired to consult Adrian Griffin, wound up replacing the legendary Joe Prunty, coached the Eastern Conference All-Stars because of his 3-7 record and finally got the kind of game the Bucks can provide at the same time that their season crumpled. Rivers has won few new supporters this season for any number of reasons, many of them having to do with Milwaukee's collapsing defense and intermittent fits of disorientation, but also because he seems this season to be the sport's designated ambulance-chaser/opportunist.

Whether that is fair criticism or not—and you can bet comfortably against the version of anything that so many people agree on—it is a message from the galactic pixies to Doc that he should cherish that championship in Boston in 2008. That's the last best moment he will ever have. It may not be entirely his fault, but fault has nothing to do with it. This is the Doc Rivers legacy: When things are finally going well for him and his associates, those things are just setting him up for a newer lousier thing.

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