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Like Magic, Giannis Antetokounmpo delivers personal masterpiece for Bucks in NBA Finals

Four decades from now – and, my God, it will be the year 2061 when 40 years have passed – basketball fans will be talking about this performance by Giannis Antetokounmpo with respect reserved for the greatest efforts of the sport’s greatest players.

Those who weren’t alive in 1980 to see rookie Magic Johnson transform from playmaker to center, replacing injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and slapping 42 points and 15 rebounds over the Sixers in a Game 6 – they’ll have that Chief -work of Giannis. They will have watched at home on television, or in a bar or on the lawn outside the Forum Fiserv or, for the lucky ones, in the arena. Or they will be one of those people who will claim to have been in the building, even if that is a lie.

They will remember that Giannis scored 50 points – 50! If they are truly students of the game, they will also remember that he became one of seven people to score 50 points in an NBA Finals game, each of his predecessors being a certified legend of the game. : Bob Petit, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Rick Barry, Michael Jordan and LeBron James.

Now Giannis Antetokounmpo is on that list – and fits comfortably into this esteemed company.

MORE: Antetokounmpo takes on Kobe Bryant ‘challenge’ as Bucks win NBA Finals

He’s on this list because he had to be. Giannis didn’t score 50 because it was flashy or cool, and certainly not because he’s the spotlight or basketball type. He scored 50 because if he had scored less, the Bucks would be planning their trip back to Phoenix rather than celebrating the franchise’s first NBA title since 1971, won with a 105-98 Game 6 victory on Tuesday night against the Suns.

In a heartbreaking game until 45 seconds were left, Antetokounmpo scored almost half of Milwaukee’s points: 47.6% to be exact, the fourth highest percentage produced by a player in the points final of his team. He scored 13 of the Bucks’ 28 points in the final period, 20 of their 35 in the third. That’s 33 points in the second half, crushing a mountain of playing pressure and the Suns’ defensive efforts with his drive, skill, willpower and a suddenly infallible touch from the free throw line.

“I want to develop a time machine, that I can go back to my rookie year to win the rookie of the year title,” Antetokounmpo said at the post-match press conference. “And after I win the Rookie of the Year award, I’ll have won it all.”

Beyond 50 points, Antetokounmpo shot 16 of 25 from the field, 17 of 19 from the line, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked five shots. It was a complete destruction of all of the Phoenix defenders placed in front of him: Deandre Ayton, Jae Crowder, and the hapless guards who sometimes turned to him.

“He’s just the ultimate competitor, the ultimate winner,” coach Mike Budenholzer told ESPN. “He keeps every position. His understanding of what it takes for us to be great defensively – there are a lot of guys who won’t put him on the line like he does at this end of the pitch.

MORE: Antetokounmpo’s Game 6 performance was iconic and rocked the NBA world

This Milwaukee team has destroyed so much nonsense that has been peddled over the past two decades about how to build an NBA team, about what’s possible.

The size of the market? Milwaukee ranks 37th among US metropolitan areas. It may be an obstacle to signing top free agents from other teams, but the Bucks were able to keep their own stars, which meant having extraordinary talent and continuity.

Tank ? The Bucks have exercised a single-digit NBA draft pick since 2009. The average draft position of the seven players who spent time in the shot was 26, with only Giannis coming to the team through that process.

Blow it up? We hear this nonsense so often when a team is successful in the regular season but fails to advance to the playoffs: that teams should drop everything and start over. The Bucks won over 70% of their games during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, but failed to reach the final every time.

It’s frustrating, that’s for sure, but it’s also the history of the NBA. The “Bad Boy” Pistons nearly beat the Celtics before finally breaking through. Michael Jordan’s Bulls nearly knocked out the Pistons before eventually winning a championship.

These Bucks didn’t have quite the same regular season as their two predecessors, but they came back 2-0 against the Nets and Suns and jumped from a 2-2 draw against the Hawks to win the last two games of the conference. finals.

MORE: Score Bucks vs. Suns, results: Antetokounmpo leads Milwaukee to NBA championship

Antetokounmpo was selected with the 15th overall pick by the Bucks in 2013, a relative unknown except for those who follow the European game closely. As astonishing as its playband is, however, the choice has been widely derided. Several blasted the team for dropping Miami’s Shane Larkin. Bleacher Report said Giannis was not months away from being NBA ready, but “years away”. He started 71 games and averaged 12.7 points for a 0.500 Bucks team in his second season.

Khris Middleton was selected 39th by the Pistons in the 2012 draft after three seasons at Texas A&M, but after an indescribable rookie year there, he was fortunate to be traded to Milwaukee and find a home. He and Antetokounmpo have been teammates ever since, simultaneously thriving to stardom and making the decision to stay in Milwaukee a few years ago.

“He pushes me everyday to be awesome,” Middleton, who finished second on the team with 17 points, told ESPN.

“I wanted to do it here in the city,” Antetokounmpo said after receiving the MVP trophy of the final. “I wanted to do it with these guys. So I’m happy. I’m glad we were able to do it.

He did so good in that game that night. But maybe he was a little generous with this “us” thing.

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