TORONTO – Whenever LeBron James struggled against Giannis Antetokounmpo's playoff play Sunday, he seemed to want to leave him behind him as quickly as possible.
His routine – assuming it was not the Final, where he had been summoned to the podium, winning or lost – generally went as follows: the Cleveland or Miami locker room door opened and James was ready to face the questions, eager to move as quickly as possible. Once he "confessed" the shots he missed or the games he missed, that's all.
Oh, you knew that he would watch a lot of videos of this game a few hours before playing again, as a way to find and fix flaws. But for public consumption at least, he threw fast, like a poorly fitting suit.
Antetokounmpo, the young star of Milwaukee Bucks, is still learning these kinds of things that face the competition and the franchise. He then took his time in the spartan visitors' room of the Scotiabank Arena.
He was sitting there with his knees wrapped and his feet bathed in ice.
Candidate MVP Kia stared at the game sheet that had been handed to her, which bore all sorts of bad news of the double-overdue setback that reduced Milwaukee's lead to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
Antetokounmpo barely looked up as the semicircle of cameras, microphones and reporters grew around him, reporters meditating closer to the dividing line between him leaving a little space and getting in touch with him. Every time he answered their questions. ("Talk", as we say in the trade).
Heck, Antetokounmpo barely looked up when Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer crossed the locker room and tapped him on his left knee, a small bond between a boy and an attacker at the end of the day. A long and disappointing night.
While his teammates were carrying their phone calls usually after the 118-112 defeat at Milwaukee, Antetokounmpo let him lie on the seat next to him.
According to the criteria he set this year as MVP's favorite, he knew he would have had a bad night. Journalists who were there, like fans around the world, knew that he had experienced difficulties in a way rarely seen since his first contact with the post-season four years ago. And he knew that they knew, so …
"It was obviously not my best match," said Antetokounmpo. "I have to be more aggressive … I have to play the right game."
Defensively, Antetokounmpo was pretty much what he was himself, catching 23 rebounds for the Bucks, defying the Toronto players on the ground near the edge, and blocking four shots. Offensively, Antetokounmpo was in disarray. He scored only 12 points, his lowest playoff number since he first dipped into the post-season waters at the age of 20. 2015.
Antetokounmpo has accumulated only six points on three shots out of eight to three quarters. Seven players from Milwaukee and five Raptors had advanced to this point, and he had failed to clear his way to the foul line, not once.
What aggravated the situation is that the game was sitting there because it was painful to be taken by someone, by anybody. Antetokounmpo is a bit launched in the fourth quarter, making a few shots and winning five free throws. But he missed three.
Then he remained aimless for the first few hours.
And then, he let 36 seconds of entry into the second OT escape. He did not object either when the sixth foul to appear before Pascal Siakam of Toronto sent him to the side. Antetokounmpo just took it and came out, sealing it as one of those hard lessons "Not your night, kid".