MILWAUKEE (AP) – Three weeks ago, a knee injury left Giannis Antetokounmpo looking 50/50 to come back for the remainder of the Bucks’ playoff run.
Look at it now.
The Greek Freak may have delivered the best performance of his career at the best possible time and can now add an NBA Finals MVP award to his two regular season MVP trophies. Much like Lew Alcindor led Milwaukee to its first championship in 1971, Antetokounmpo made sure a big man carried the Bucks to their next title, scoring 50 points to end the city’s 50-year drought.
Antetokounmpo was an easy pick for MVP honor after also adding 14 rebounds and five blocks in a 105-98 Game 6 win on Tuesday night against the Phoenix Suns.
Giannis Antetokounmpo joins Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players in NBA history to win a regular season MVP Award, a Finals MVP Award and a Defensive Player of the Year Award. pic.twitter.com/Ks1Uhf9EA8
– History of the NBA (@NBAHistory) July 21, 2021
“I want to thank Milwaukee for believing in me,” Antetokounmpo said during the post-game ceremony on the floor of the Fiserv Forum. “I want to thank my teammates, man. They played hard in every fucking game. I trusted this team. I wanted to do it here in this city. I wanted to do it with these guys. I am happy. I’m glad we were able to do it.
Antetokounmpo has collected at least 40 points and 10 rebounds in three of the six games in this series.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the 2nd player in NBA history with three 40-point, 10-rebound games in a single NBA Finals, joining Shaquille O’Neal in 2000. @ESPNStatsInfo
– Kirk Goldsberry (@kirkgoldsberry) July 21, 2021
He did all of this while facing a hyperextended left knee that kept him from playing the last two games of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks.
Antetokounmpo initially feared the injury would be more serious and would keep him out of action for an entire year. Instead, he was back on the field a week later for the start of the NBA Finals.
He had 20 points and 17 rebounds in a loss in Game 1. He followed with at least 41 points and 12 rebounds in each of the next two games.
He then played major roles in the two flagship pieces of this series.
First, he blocked Deandre Ayton’s dunk attempt to keep Phoenix from tying Game 4 with just over a minute to go. And after Jrue Holiday made a steal with the Bucks protecting a point lead in the last minute of Game 5, the 6-foot-11 Antetokounmpo ran onto the field and was at the alley’s reception. oop from Holiday who helped land the Game.
He saved his best outing for the deciding title, scoring nearly half of the Bucks’ points.
Antetokounmpo had 20 points in the third quarter just to help Milwaukee recover from a 47-42 halftime deficit, although the game was still tied for 77-all heading into the final period.
He had 27 of the Bucks’ 48 total points over the game’s middle two quarters. And after making just 55.6% of his free throws in his first 20 games of these playoffs, Antetokounmpo went 17 of 19 from the line on Tuesday.
His quick recovery to lead Milwaukee to his first title since 1971 is the crowning achievement of Antetokounmpko’s remarkable rise to NBA stardom.
Giannis delivered. https://t.co/cT5siwkvjv
– NBA (@NBA) July 21, 2021
Antetokounmpo, 26, noted this week that he hadn’t even started playing basketball in 2007, when LeBron James made his first appearance in the final. His rare mix of height and athleticism made him the No.15 pick in the 2013 draft, and he made his first All-Star appearance four years later.
He won back-to-back MVP honors in 2019 and 2020 while leading the Bucks to the league’s best regular-season record each of those years, but they continued to fail in the playoffs. The Bucks lost a 2-0 lead to Toronto in the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals, then lost to Miami in the second round.
Antetokounmpo kept his confidence in the Bucks by signing a supermax extension in December. He also decided to take a different mental approach.
He admitted that he was too caught up in the emotional fluctuations of every win and loss earlier in his career. He has remained more balanced this year while becoming a more vocal leader.
“I was getting too high (after the wins), and maybe the loss made me feel like it was the end of the world,” Antetokounmpo said the day before the championship win. “I have the impression that this year losing or winning has not happened. I was the same kind of guy. I just live with any outcome because I believe I’m meant to be there at this time and place.
This strategy allowed the Bucks to erase the 2-0 second-round deficits against Brooklyn and again in those Finals. This helped Antetokounmpo cope with the uncertainty in the aftermath of his injury.
And now he’s put him to the top of the charts as the MVP of a league championship series.