Giannis Antetokounmpo’s replacement has become a big favorite among Milwaukee Bucks’ fans

ATLANTA – The “Bobby, Bobby” chants can come at any time during the game.

Milwaukee forward Bobby Portis doesn’t even have to be in the game, and Bucks fans will start chanting his name.

The chorus is even louder when Portis is in the game making plays. And that was the case in Game 5 on Thursday when Portis started in place of injured All-NBA forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Portis delivered a breakout performance with a playoff career-high 22 points and eight rebounds, three assists and three steals in Milwaukee’s 123-112 victory over Atlanta.

“His energy, and whether he’s playing or in the game, not playing or he’s in the game plan, he’s still got great energy,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He’s there for us.”

Asked why Portis resonates with Milwaukee fans, Budenholzer said, “He just plays with great passion. I think his passion is infectious. His teammates love him. The fans love him. He brings that passion for the game, for life. He’s fun to be around. I think the crowd can feel that. His teammates can feel that. Coaches can feel it. He’s a worker, too. So I think it’s a little bit of everything, but passion to me is the thing he brings to the game.”

Portis considered the same question.

“The city goes through a lot,” he said. “So, when they see somebody that gives his all and works hard, because it’s a blue-collar city and I’m a blue-collar player, I’m going to take the shots whether they are going in or not. I still give my all to the team 100%, for the name in front of the jersey and they love players like that.”

Portis has found a welcome place in Milwaukee. It wasn’t always like that, and Portis acknowledged his early struggles in the NBA. He was honest and open about not understanding why he wasn’t getting minutes early in his career. After all, he was a top-ranked high school player and SEC player of the year his sophomore season at Arkansas.

“Kind of lost myself a little bit,” he said, while also referencing a 2017 incident with Chicago Bulls teammate Nikola Mirotic. Portis punched Mirotic causing facial fractures.

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After three-plus seasons with Chicago, he spent half a season with Washington and last season with New York and then signed with Milwaukee during free agency just before the start of this season. He said he took less money (a two-year, $7.4 million deal) to play for the Bucks.

“Finally found peace, man. I’m at peace with myself and at peace in my life and at peace with everything going on around,” Portis said. “I was just always trying to find it again, and really couldn’t find it. But having great teammates and great coaches. And the pandemic really helped me find out more about myself more than anything.

Bobby Portis scored a career-playoff-high 22 points in the Bucks’ Game 5 win over the Hawks.

“Being at home for nine or 10 months straight, watching guys on TV play in the bubble, not being able to go there really hurt. Being home with my mom was actually fun, as well, getting to spend time with her. But knowing I love the game, just had to sit out a lot and wait my time. But I got a chance to really work on my game a lot. So that kind of helped me prepare for the moment.”

Portis, who goes by BP and jokes he brings the fuel just like the gas station, averaged 11.4 points and 7.1 rebounds and shot 52.3% from the field and 47.1% on 3-pointers in the regular season. His playing time has fluctuated in the playoffs, and he did not play in three games during Eastern Conference semifinals against Brooklyn.

Portis’ teammates appreciate his approach.

“He was disappointed, but he didn’t sulk, complain about it or whatnot,” Middleton said. “He stayed locked in and stayed ready. He’s had a huge impact in this series so far. That just tells you the type of character guy he is and what he’s all about. He’s all about winning and working and staying ready for whenever his time, his moment comes.”

Portis had never started a playoff game until Thursday. He wasn’t sure if he would start in place of Antetokounmpo, but he got the word from Budenholzer at the team’s shootaround Thursday morning. Later that day, he helped the shorthanded Bucks to a 3-2 series lead and a win away from a spot in the Finals.

“The journey is what makes it sweet, man, in the NBA,” Portis said. “You really can’t put a tab on that. Coming here, man, was the best decision of my career, having good veterans like Giannis and Brook (Lopez) to coach me up on how to be a two-way player on the defensive end and things like that, and guys like Khris (Middleton) and Jrue (Holiday), who are unselfish (and) can pass the ball and still trust me to shoot my shots and having coaches, Coach Bud and Coach (Darvin) Ham and all the coaching staff that just believe in me. It was a great decision on that, too.”

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Giannis Antetokounmpo’s replacement is a big fan favorite with Bucks


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