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Even without Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks can still get to the NBA Finals. Here's how

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MILWAUKEE – Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks All-NBA forward, has a hyperextended left knee and is doubtful for Thursday night’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Atlanta Hawks.

Antetokounmpo is not expected to play and his availability for the remainder of the series is in doubt, though Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer on Wednesday said, “Hopefully there's a way that we play both with Giannis and without Giannis.”

Even if he plays, he won’t be 100%. “We'll manage it both from a Giannis perspective, from a team's perspective, and we've just got to keep moving, get ready for Game 5,” Budenholzer said.

Can the Bucks win a game or two against the Hawks without their star? Yes, but it won’t be easy and it will require standout performances from players you’d expect and contribution from a player you might not expect.

Without Giannis Antetokounmpo out, Khris Middleton (22) and guard Jrue Holiday will need to pick up more of the offensive load.
Without Giannis Antetokounmpo out, Khris Middleton (22) and guard Jrue Holiday will need to pick up more of the offensive load.

“We’ve got a lot of talent, so I think just let the guys play,” Budenholzer said. “Put them in a comfort level and put them in a comfortable spot and let them go play basketball, not over-complicated. We've played games without Giannis, without Khris (Middleton), without Jrue (Holiday), without whoever it may be, and so hopefully you have a structure and a system where you can function at a high level on both ends of the court no matter who is playing.”

The Bucks improved their roster with the addition of Holiday and P.J. Tucker, but their rotation is even shorter because Donte DiVincenzo, their starting guard, is sideline after season-ending surgery on June 8 to repair a torn ankle ligament.

Middleton and Holiday carry a larger responsibility, and they’re capable of it. Middleton tied a playoff career-high with 38 points in Game 3, and Holiday had 33 points and 10 assists in Game 1 and he averages 20 points and 9.5 assists in the series. However, Middleton and Holiday were a combined 12-for-34 from the field in Atlanta’s Game 4 victory.

In games Antetokounmpo missed this season. Middleton’s numbers weren’t dramatically different, but Holiday’s usage rate, scoring and shot attempts increased.

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“He's just got to make good decisions,” Budenholzer said of Holiday. “Play good basketball. He may have to score. But I think when he penetrates and get to the paint, good things happen for the team, good things happen for him. Game 1, had 33 (points), and a bunch of assists, and he's very, very capable. That’s the thing that gives you a lot of confidence is a lot of really good players, a lot of guys that have confidence and a skill set that can just be themselves.”

If Antetokounmpo can’t go, Budenholzer hasn’t settled on a starter – it could be Bobby Portis, Pat Connaughton or to keep his bench rotation normal, he could start Giannis’ brother, Thanasis Antetokounmpo.

“We're beating it up, talking about it as a coaching staff, and there's different directions you can go and then how it impacts you throughout managing the 48 minutes,” Budenholzer said. “So you know, at some point, you've got to pull the trigger and make a decision. You know, we'll probably do that and then we'll probably tell you we don't know who we are playing and planning on starting and all that, and then at tip-off or whatever, you guys will get it. It's kind of the normal routine.”

The Bucks can draw inspiration from the Hawks, who just won a game without their star in Game 4. Trae Young who missed the game with a bone bruise on his right foot.

The Bucks were 6-5 in games that Antetokounmpo missed this season.

“During the course of the last three years, it's the normal NBA,” Budenholzer said. “You play games without certain players, and I think those are important games and it's important to learn and draw on them.

“Certainly I think (Thursday), subconsciously or consciously, I think all of us will know. We've played without Giannis, and I think even there's been good stretches when Giannis is (playing but) not on the court – we can maintain and sustain or build leads and things like that. All that I think you draw on.”

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Without Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks can still advance to NBA Finals