MILWAUKEE – Half a century ago Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – a young Goliath, then known as Lew Alcindor – led the Milwaukee Bucks to their first championship. For decades, it was the only time the franchise had reached this height.
Until now, that is.
On Tuesday night, the Bucks crowned their return to greatness. They are once again led by a giant of unique skill, this time by a 26-year-old player from Greece nicknamed the “Greek Freak”, Giannis Antetokounmpo. On his home court, Milwaukee defeated the Phoenix Suns 105-98 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals to win his second championship and end a grueling NBA season Coronavirus pandemic injuries and disruptions.
“This should make every person, every child, everyone around the world believe in their dreams,” said a cheering Antetokounmpo, also of Nigerian descent, after the game. He added, “I hope I give hope to people from Africa and Europe around the world that it is possible. Eight and a half years ago, before I got into the league, I didn’t know where my next meal would be coming from. My mother was Sell things in the street.”
Antetokounmpo put in one of the best performances in NBA final history, scoring 50 points – a playoff career high – and adding 14 rebounds. Like most of his career, Antetokounmpo has bullied his way into the basket with a number of spin films and brute force. Even from the free-throw line, wherever he has fought, he was almost perfect at 17 to 19. He was also a defensive force, blocking five shots. When the final buzzer sounded, there was no doubt about who would be named Most Valuable Player of the Series.
“Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t or can’t be,” said Antetokounmpo. “People told me I couldn’t take free throws. I took my free throws tonight. And I’m a bloody champion. “
The Suns kept the crucial game competitive in the second half. Chris Paul, the 36-year-old Star Point Guard from Phoenix, finished with 26 points. The Suns top scorer Devin Booker struggled, scoring 19 points out of 22 shots. The loss was particularly painful for Paul as he is a multi-year all-star in his 16th season still in search of his elusive championship.
“It’s tough,” said Paul. “Great group of guys, a hell of a season but this one is going to hurt for a while.”
Bobby Portis, a Milwaukee reserve striker and fan favorite known for his ostentatious admonitions, had 16 points off the bench. The crowd sang his name every time he met.
The championship was the culmination of a notable rise for Antetokounmpo, a two-time winner of the league’s Most Valuable Player Award. He joined the NBA as a rail-thin candidate drafted outside of the top 14 picks, a grouping known as the lottery and seen as a sign of imminent fame. Since then, he has established himself as one of the best players in Bucks history.
in the its eighth season, the championship fills the final blatant hole on a resume that includes five All-Star selections and a Defensive Player of the Year award. Top stars are often judged by how many championship rings they have and how they won them. Antetokounmpo won his title using the franchise that designed it in an NBA era when the best players are often out and about.
For the past two seasons, Antetokounmpo’s Bucks finished the regular season with the best record in the Eastern Conference and were knocked out in the playoffs before the final, raising the question of whether Antetokounmpo could really make the team better. The opponents took advantage of his below-average shooting ability.
Earlier this season there were rumors that he could leave the Bucks free. Instead, Antetokounmpo bet on Milwaukee from in December Signing of a so-called Super Max extension worth nearly a quarter of a billion dollars. Then he delivered a dominant playoff run and dispelled any doubts about his superstar status.
“This is my city. They trust me. They believe in me. They believe in us,” said Antetokounmpo. “Even when we lost the series, they were on our side. Of course I wanted to get the job done.”
Antetokounmpo then talked about the “easy” decision some NBA stars made to leave the free agency or ask about trades so they can team up with other stars.
“I could go to a great team and just do my part and win a championship,” he said, adding, “But that’s the difficult path.”
He hit the table for emphasis.
It helped that Milwaukee Gambled and traded for Jrue Holiday, a well-respected versatile gamer without the pedigree of multi-year all-star appearances. The Bucks sent a package to New Orleans that was usually reserved for a real star, including several veterans and several draft picks. The risk paid off: Holiday offered Antetokounmpo strong help on both sides of the ball when the Bucks needed it most, particularly with a 27-point performance and 13 assists in Game 5.
During the regular season, the bucks were ready Third in the east, behind the Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers. Milwaukee has been aided in part by the health of its key players, who have largely avoided major injuries and coronavirus infections. In March, the Bucks traded with Houston to acquire PJ Tucker, a seasoned striker known as a tough defender and reliable shooter.
However, the Milwaukee playoff run appeared to be on the verge of collapse several times. Trainer Mike Budenholzer in his third season with the Bucks, has been scathingly studied for his efforts to make adjustments against strong defenses or to find more creative ways of using antetokounmpo. And Khris Middleton, a two-time All-Star, was once again faced with the question of whether he was a good enough surrogate for Antetokounmpo given his inconsistent shootout in the postseason.
“It’s hard to find more words to describe what Giannis is doing,” said Budenholzer, adding, “He’s off the charts.”
In the semi-finals, the Bucks faced the Nets, led by superstar trio Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden. Milwaukee lost the first two games of the series, including a 39-point blowout in Game 2. But the Nets were prevented from injuries to Irving and Harden, and Antetokounmpo admitted star appearances of his own Expand the series to seven games. In the final game, a jump shot from Durant at the end of regulation came just an inch before the end of the Bucks season: his toe was on the 3-point line so the shot was only worth one game value, the 2 points and not a game-winning 3. Instead, with Antetokounmpos 40 points and 13 rebounds, the Bucks took the series-winning game in overtime took in Brooklyn.
In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final against upstart Atlanta Hawks, in which the series tied on two games each, Antetokounmpo landed awkwardly and dropped his left knee to the ground, raising fears that he would be the latest in a series of Being NBA Stars would miss time due to a serious injury. Since his return date is uncertain, the Bucks have relied on Holiday and Middleton to win Games 5 and 6 and send Milwaukee to its first NBA final since 1974.
It turned out that Antetokounmpo’s injury was just an overstretch that allowed him to return for the championship round. In the final, the Suns won their first two home games, marking the third series in a row in which the Bucks were confronted with a deficit. Antetokounmpos 41 points during the third game in Milwaukee helped turn the tide when the Bucks won 120-100.
In Game 4, the Bucks came back from 9 points in the fourth quarter, leveling the streak behind Middleton’s 40 points. But this game will be Most remembered for Antetokounmpo’s late game block on Sun’s Center Deandre Ayton, one of the most important defensive games in the history of the NBA final.
With a firm swing in their backs, the Bucks returned to Phoenix and brought the suns to the edge in Game 5, which was highlighted at the end of the game by an alley oop to Antetokounmpo from Holiday. In game 6, Antetokounmpo was average 32.2 points, 13 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game in the final.
After the summer on Tuesday, an emotional Antetokounmpo hugged former Bucks guard Brandon Jennings, who played in the NBA from 2009 to 2018 and was briefly Antetokounmpo’s teammate. It was Jennings who once enthusiastically predicted that Milwaukee would beat the more talented Miami Heat in six games in a 2013 playoff series. The completely inaccurate prediction has become a rallying cry for the Milwaukee fan base and has made Jennings something of a cult hero.
Fans chanted “Bucks in Six!” throughout the series. These chants were deafening after the game as the audience was thrilled that Jennings’ prophecy had finally come true.