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Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo "had to be more vocal this year," he told The Athletic's Eric Nehm in an interview heading into the All-Star break. Specifically, for the first 43 games of the season, when Adrian Griffin was the coach of the Bucks, he had to talk more in film sessions and diagram plays.

"Things (weren't) the way they were supposed to be, how can I say it?" Antetokounmpo said. "The last couple of years, I'm used to a specific structure of things, a specific culture, there's a certain way that you have to do things in order for you to win games, you know? And if that level is not being met, as a leader, you have to push that envelope. Push everybody, your coaching staff, your teammates."

The Bucks were 40-13 when they fired Griffin, who had spent the previous 15 seasons as an assistant coach. Leading up to that, Antetokounmpo had argued with Griffin at the scorer's table, criticized the team for being disorganized late in games and, after a particularly bad loss in Houston, said, "We have to be coached better." (He also said the equipment manager "has to wash our clothes better.")

Milwaukee is 3-7 under Doc Rivers, who had been an NBA head coach for 24 consecutive seasons before spending the first few months of this season as an analyst for ESPN. According to Antetokounmpo, though, Rivers has made his life easier.

From The Athletic:

"[Rivers brought] some peace of mind," Antetokounmpo said. "He's tough. He's Doc f—ing Rivers. He knows his s—. Same thing for Coach Bud. Same with Joe Prunty, J-Kidd. And Coach Griff was a great coach, a great person to work with, but, at the end of the day, it was his first time.

"He was figuring things out, how to lead a group of guys, how to operate with star players and sometimes, that might be hard. I think everybody did a good job. His coaching staff did a good job too, helping him and making him adjust and I think he did a tremendous job leading us to a 30-13 record, but Coach Doc has won 1,100 games. So it's totally different."

With a veteran coach at the helm, Antetokounmpo feels like quite a bit has been taken off of his plate.

"Now it's almost like I don't have to do that anymore," Antetokounmpo said of the extra emphasis he had put on leadership to start the season under Griffin. "I just have to keep the guys together and try to go out there and try to win.

"Coach Doc, he's a great guy, been in the league for a lot of years, won a lot of games. Like you go to bed, you sleep well at night. Win or lose, you know that the coaching staff is going to be prepared. And not just him, from Rex (Kalamian), from Dave Joerger, like come on, man, Joe Prunty, we have guys that are extremely smart and know the game of basketball. So, from that aspect, you don't have to worry anymore."

The story, which published Wednesday morning, follows a couple of eyebrow-raising comments from Rivers during All-Star weekend in Indianapolis:

  1. At media day on Saturday, via Fox Sports' Yaron Weitzman: "Taking a job when you're about to go on the toughest road trip of the season is not the smartest decision. I even told them that: 'Can we wait till All-Star break?' You know, it would have been a lot nicer."
  2. In an interview on SiriusXM with Frank Isola and Ryan MacDonough: "Personally, I'll be honest, I told our owners when they called, I said, 'I don't understand why you're doing this.' You know? And one of the things they said was, "Well, it doesn't matter, we've done it now. And we want you.' And so that was a tough one."

Both times, Rivers said taking over the team had been harder than he thought and noted that he'd had the job for three weeks but only spent four days in Milwaukee. This led to ESPN analyst JJ Redick, who played for Rivers with the Los Angeles Clippers, to call him out for "always making excuses" and "always throwing your team under the bus."

Preceding all of this was a rough loss against the severely shorthanded Memphis Grizzlies last Thursday, after which Rivers said, "We had some guys here. We had some guys in Cabo."

In his interview with The Athletic, Antetokounmpo said that he was willing to "talk more in the film sessions like I've been doing all year" and "f---ing grab the f---ing board and write something down" if he needs to, adding that "you cannot just let opportunities like this go to waste." The Bucks are 35-21, third in the Eastern Conference, with a 1.5-game lead on the fourth-place New York Knicks. Their defense has better in the early days of the Rivers era, but their offense has fallen off. The hope is that, in the final 26 games of the regular season, they will get Khris Middleton healthy, find some cohesion and string some wins together. Antetokounmpo sounds pleased to be playing for Rivers, but he's clearly not satisfied with the results.

"I feel like I don't want to look back and be like, 'Damn, I had some great teams and I wasn't able to get over the hump,'" Antetokounmpo said. "We have to stop feeling bad about ourselves. I'm tired of this. We have to stop doing that. Things are not going to be given to us. We have to go and take it. Like I've played with guys that never felt bad about themselves. Came in, did their job, went home, did their job, went home, did their job. That's what we have to do. We're not doing it right now, but hopefully we can do it."