Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard possibly returning in must-win Game 6 for Pacers

With the series shifting back to Indiana for a must-win Game 6 and Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard's conditions improving, Indiana must pull out a win soon.
Indiana Pacers v Milwaukee Bucks - Game Five
Indiana Pacers v Milwaukee Bucks - Game Five / Stacy Revere/GettyImages

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard may return soon, and that spells trouble for the Indiana Pacers.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has been out ever since the start of the Pacers first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks. He has not played a playoff game yet due to a left calf strain he suffered near the end of the regular season. With the history of this injury including Kevin Durant's Achilles tear in 2019 which sidelined him for a full season, it is understandable why the Bucks would be cautious to sit Antetokounmpo, as an escalation is the last thing they need, especially in the playoffs.

As for Damian Lillard, he played the first three games of the series, even leading Milwaukee to a Game 1 win with 35 points in the first quarter, However, during the Bucks' Game 3 loss in Indiana, Lillard went down with an Achilles injury in the fourth quarter after leaving the game earlier due to twisting his knee in the third quarter. He has been out since.

After the Pacers beat the Bucks in Game 4 to take a 3-1 series lead, there was growing optimism that Antetokounmpo could return for Game 5. There were even reports that he practiced fully for the first time last Sunday and ran on a treadmill without support. However, both Giannis and Lillard were ruled out as game time neared.

Despite this, the Pacers still found a way to lose to an undermanned Milwaukee Bucks team after giving up 29 points each to Khris Middleton and Bobby Portis. This win in front of their home crowd gave the Bucks momentum as the series was extended to a sixth game back in Indiana.

Near the end of this Game 5 blowout, reports started circulating that optimism was growing about Antetokounmpo and Lillard both being available to play in Game 6 in Indiana. With the Bucks getting a Game 5 win without them, they were gifted a few more days of rest and recovery to potentially return to save their team.

During the post-game interview, Bucks coach Doc Rivers provided an update on both players, stating that they are 'very, very, very close,' indicating a potential return later in the series. Of course, nothing is official yet, as the official injury report has not been released, and the Bucks will certainly be cautious about bringing their two stars back with potential further injury looming.

However, if even one of Antetokounmpo or Lillard returns for Game 6 and the Bucks pull off a win in Indiana, that can spell a whole world of trouble. If one returns, the other will most likely follow for the next game, and Indiana may end up having to deal with a fully healthy and angry Milwaukee team playing to save their season. This makes Game 6 extremely important, as the Pacers do not want to take any chances with Giannis or Lillard's returns and put the Bucks away while they still can.

If Antetokounmpo does return, it will most likely be on a minutes restriction as well as with more caution on the court. With the risks that a calf injury presents, the coaching staff will most likely advise against him going full speed ahead and playing like his usual self in order to not re-aggravate any injury. The same potentially goes for Lillard, although his play style is less explosive and prone to injury.

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Either way, the Pacers' best bet is to finish the series off in front of their home fans and avoid any chance of a disastrous Game 7 in front of the Milwaukee faithful. If the young, inexperienced Indiana Pacers head into a Game 7 in Milwaukee against a recharged duo of Giannis and Dame, that may very well be the end of their season.