Giannis Antetokounmpo is an NBA champion. The Milwaukee Bucks are NBA champions.
In a historic performance worthy of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who last led the Bucks to a title in 1971, Antetokounmpo scored 33 of his 50 points after halftime of Game 6 to beat the Phoenix Suns, 105-98.
Antetokounmpo marked one of the great Finals performances in NBA history with 16-of-25 field goals, 17-of-19 free throws, 14 rebounds and five blocks in 42 minutes. After losing the first two games of the series, Milwaukee won four straight. Antetokounmpo scored 41 points in Game 3, secured Game 4 with an iconic game-saving block, clinched Game 5 with a legendary alley-oop dunk and dropped a 50-spot in Game 6.
Finals MVP recipients do not get more obvious.
"This should make every person, every kid, everybody around the world believe in their dreams," said Antetokounmpo, a Greek national born to Nigerian parents, drafted 15th overall as a relative unknown in 2013. "No matter whatever you feel, when you feel down, when things look like it might not happen for you, you might not make it — your career might be basketball, it might be anything — just believe in what you're doing. Keep working. Don't let nobody tell you what you can't be and what you cannot do."
Giannis Antetokounmpo among rare company
The company 26-year-old Antetokounmpo keeps is already few. The two-time regular-season MVP and 2020 Defensive Player of the Year added the award named in Bill Russell's honor to his growing list of accolades. Until Tuesday, only Michael Jordan had those same four trophies in his case. Antetokounmpo joined Jordan, LeBron James, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Rick Barry and Bob Pettit as the only players to score 50 points in a Finals game. Pettit in 1958 was the only other player to do it in a close-out game.
Antetokounmpo survived a condensed regular season and a hyperextended left knee in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals to achieve a goal that eluded him in two previous disappointing playoff exits. Those losses elicited the criticism that follows growing legends until they win a ring. Antetokounmpo now joins all-timers like Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Tim Duncan as Finals MVPs by the age of 26.
Both teams battled nerves early, combining for three field goals on 15 attempts and six turnovers in the first five minutes. Middleton was first to find his rhythm, scoring seven straight points for a 15-7 cushion. Portis and Antetokounmpo each took turns scoring six straight, pushing the advantage to 29-16 by quarter's end.
In a sure sign of trouble, Cam Payne's five points off the bench led the Suns in the first quarter, but he scored another five to ignite a 10-0 run to start the second. It was not unlike the counterpunch the Bucks threw in the second quarter of Game 5 in Phoenix. By the midway point, Paul's layup tied Game 6 at 33, and a pair of Deandre Ayton free throws gave the Suns their first lead inside of five minutes before halftime.
Led by Paul's 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting, the Suns shot 61% in the second quarter (11-18 FG) to the Bucks' 20% (4-20 FG), and Phoenix outscored Milwaukee 31-13 in the frame to take a 47-42 halftime lead.
Sniffing a ring, Antetokounmpo owned the third quarter, scoring 14 of Milwaukee's first 18 points after the break and dropping 20 total in the stanza. His burst returned the lead to the Bucks, and six straight points from Brook Lopez — including a thunderous dunk that ignited the crowd — extended their edge to 66-61.
A four-point play from Crowder and inspired effort from backup center Frank Kaminsky helped the Suns withstand the onslaught. With Ayton in foul trouble and Paul resting, Booker helmed a 14-9 run to close the third, scoring or assisting on the final 10 points to even the score entering the fourth, 77-77.
But Antetokounmpo would not be denied, adding 13 points in the fourth quarter to get his 50 points for the 50 years since the Bucks last were champions. His latest pledge is not to wait so long for the next one.
"As Coach Bud said, we've got to do it again," Antetokounmpo told the Fiserv Forum crowd afterward.
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