It’s one of the unwritten rules of the NBA – you throw the ball to your big guy a few times in the first quarter to make sure he gives you 100% on defense, sets great screens, and does all the dirty work fans don’t notice. So the next time your team starts the game with a baffling play for the defensive big on the court, look at it as an investment in box-outs and rebounds. One guy defied that principle.
In Game 3 of the Finals, with his team down 0-2, Giannis asked to be subbed out early in Q1. As he was making a miraculous return from a hyperextended knee, we all wondered if his health was worse than we thought. Giannis later said he needed “to tinkle,” but another theory was talked about as being more likely. Antetkounmpo was so worked up for the game that he would start hyperventilating and needed a moment to calm down and get in the flow of the game. Guess who used this to bring up Michael Jordan.
Never seen a superstar hyperventilate early in games and have to be taken out of games to catch this breath. That happens regularly to Giannis. No, as he says, he's not Michael Jordan.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) July 15, 2021
This would’ve set up Stephen A. to troll Skip about MJ obviously not caring about the game as much as Giannis, but we’ll leave First Take arguments to Skip and Stephen A. On a much smaller scale, I could relate to the idea you need to work through intense emotions before performing in front of people. A long time ago, my parents pegged me for a pianist. As much as I hated the entire experience of going to music school, playing in front of a packed house is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. But, being the lazy ass I was, there was a lot of fear before every performance – if I got past the first page without fu**ing up, things were going to be OK. (unfortunately, you can’t be subbed out when playing an instrument).
So I wondered, were there other athletes who got so hyped up before a game that they needed a few minutes to get their baring after jump ball? The answer is yes, and the first guy that came to mind has a story to confirm it. Unlike almost every other big man in NBA history, Doc Rivers had to do the complete opposite with Kevin Garnett.
You mention the hyperventilation. You know Doc Rivers never ran a play for Kevin Garnett for the first five minutes of ANY GAME, because of the same thing. He was so so amped up that Doc said ‘If I ran a play for him, he would’ve shattered the backboard.‘Jackie MacMullan, The Bill Simmons Podcast
Some guys are just built different – they care about a November game against a team that’s obviously tanking as much as an elimination game in June. Once the game starts, they only know how to play one way. The Celtics had a similar problem with the best player ever to wear the green jersey. In addition to doing everything else, Larry Bird would constantly go after offensive rebounds. The team figured out he was burning so much energy chasing rebounds that Bird would lose significant weight during the season. So Red Auerbach had to sit him down and tell The Legend he’s enforcing an embargo on offensive rebounds.
Giannis and KG are extreme examples, but we need to appreciate guys who actually love to play the game more – especially in the era of load management.