Giannis Antetokounmpo saves best for last, leads Bucks to first NBA title in 50 years


In a career-defining game, Giannis Antetokounmpo scores 50 and gets just enough help from his teammates to oust Phoenix in Game 6.

Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists in The Finals.


MILWAUKEE — The countdown to 50 years between championships began with 35 seconds remaining in the dry spell, when the sellout crowd inside Fiserv Forum began to chant “Bucks in Six” in perfect pitch and harmony. On the outside, where half of Wisconsin gathered, the screams rose up and the beer went down.

And on the floor, Giannis Antetokounmpo waved his arms and therefore gave the signal that it was time. Time for Giannis to join an elite group of historically special players. Time for the NBA Finals to creep to a close after six mostly suspenseful games. Time for Khris Middleton and P.J. Tucker, Jrue Holiday and Mike Budenholzer to become a bit choked up and find someone to hug.

Time for the Milwaukee Bucks to announce themselves as champions for the second time in their history and first since 1971.

Seeing how it developed and progressed and especially how it ended, with an electric Game 6 that was authored by a player who instantly became a legend, it was well worth the wait. The Bucks rallied from 0-2 in the series and never looked back — well, actually, maybe they did a few times nervously along the journey — and then put the Suns away Tuesday night with a closing 105-98 victory that made a city shiver.

The victory and the title was mostly made possible by the brilliance of Giannis, a force on each end of the floor throughout the series, and who saved his best for last. Giannis scored 50 points, reaching that round figure on a made free throw — who would’ve thunk it? — and added 14 rebounds and five blocked shots. It was an immortalized effort by Giannis that surely earned him a spot among those who walked before him.

“Sweat and sacrifice,” Giannis said, choking up. “So much sacrifice.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo reflects on his and the Bucks’ journey to their first NBA title together.

In The Finals, Giannis had a pair of 40-pieces as well, but what made this game special was the manner in which he toppled the Suns: He made 17 of 19 free throws, an astonishing display of efficiency by a player whose free throws were mocked by road crowds and also struggled to swish through the nets.

“I made them when I’m supposed to,” he joked.

Also, it was an affirmation that Giannis did right by himself, and the franchise, when he signed a contract extension in 2020 and delivered the championship that eluded these Bucks, who had nothing to show for their recent efforts except shiny regular-season records — until now.

“I could go to a super team and do my part and win a championship,” said Giannis, whose potential free agency had teams clearing cap room to make a run at him. “But this is the hard way to do it and we did it.”

He added: “There was a job that had to be finished … this was my city. They believed in me. So many people believed in me and helped me get to this point. I’m in the people business and I don’t want to let people down.”

Are there any historical comparisons to what Giannis just did? Maybe the best is 2011 Dirk Nowitzki, who took a Dallas Mavericks’ team that lacked another superstar-in-prime and beat the Big Three of Miami. Another is 1975 Rick Barry, who tug-boated the Warriors. But neither had their fingerprints on both the offensive and defensive end quite like Giannis, a two-time Kia MVP and former Kia Defensive Player of the Year and now, Finals MVP.

Budenholzer said: “It was the way he did everything, stepped up, the poise, the confidence, the leadership. He’s off the charts. It’s hard to find more words what Giannis does.”

It would be a bit unfair to totally attach this title to Giannis, though. This was also a product of the relationship he developed over the last eight years with Khris Middleton, and their trust and chemistry and respect for each other was apparent throughout the series. Giannis yielded to Middleton by choice and often by necessity and it worked: Middleton constantly torpedoed the Suns with mid-range jumpers and seemed to get buckets whenever the Bucks needed one.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scores 50 points with 14 rebounds and 5 blocks in a historic closeout performance.


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