When he began hitting the free throws, that was that.
In any case, lacking free throws was purported to be the vulnerability within the Giannis Antetokounmpo Expertise. Irrespective of how thrilling and dominant the two-time NBA MVP was — and he’d turn into, at 26, one of the crucial thrilling and dominant gamers within the recreation — Antetokounmpo on the line was a deeply iffy proposition. He bricked. He airballed. He took an excessive amount of time. What must be a high-percentage shot was now a torturous riddle. Hostile crowds goaded the referees to flag Antetokounmpo for a 10-second time violation, loudly counting upward: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…
Not Tuesday. Not in a very powerful recreation of Antetokounmpo’s profession, and the largest basketball second within the metropolis of Milwaukee for the reason that Kareem/Oscar Robertson title 50 years earlier than. In a Recreation 6 clincher versus Phoenix, Antetokounmpo was as soon as extra a twister within the open courtroom, leaping over helpless Suns for simple twos, swatting pictures on the different finish, displaying the sort of relentless coronary heart that Bucks followers have identified since Antetokounmpo arrived as an unknown teenager from Greece.
However now, remarkably: Antetokounmpo was hitting these free throws. He shot Four for Four on free throws within the first quarter, 1 for two within the second, 7 for 7 within the third quarter, and 5 of 6 within the fourth. Within the second half, with Phoenix threatening, he calmly sank 13 in a row. The allegedly “imperfect” celebrity who walked into the sport taking pictures 55 p.c from the road in these playoffs wound up hitting 17 of 19 pictures, only a hair beneath 90 p.c.
It was like watching Superman get up and ask for a scrumptious bowl of Kryptonite.
Swish. Simple. Swish. Simple. Swish. Simple.
If Giannis’s weak point was not a weak point, how did Phoenix presumably stand an opportunity?
The Suns impressively stored it shut. The ultimate rating was Milwaukee 105-98, and it was anybody’s recreation till late. Antetokounmpo completed with 50 factors, 14 rebounds, and 5 blocked pictures, a traditionally astonishing output. When it was over, he hugged his teammates, his household, and his one-year-old son, Liam, after which collapsed right into a courtside chair, pulled a towel over his face, and wept.
He’d finished it. Higher but: they’d finished it, improbably, slightly group that couldn’t, till it did. Antetokounmpo had resisted the chance to go elsewhere in free company and stayed in Milwaukee. He determined to stay with the small-market membership that took an opportunity on him in 2013, and his alternative felt like a little bit of a sentimental wager, and maybe an incorrect one, as a result of though the Bucks may provide him a historic contract, there was no assurance a title may very well be gained within the fashionable NBA, the place the stability of energy strikes immediately, as star gamers glide between franchises in pursuit of “superteams” and temporary championship home windows.
Nevertheless it had labored, in Milwaukee, and it clearly meant a fantastic deal.
“I wished to do it right here, on this metropolis, with these guys,” Antetokounmpo stated when it was over.
He elaborated later. “I wished to get the job finished,” he stated. “That’s my cussed aspect. It’s simple to go someplace and win a championship with someone else. It’s simple…I may go to a superteam and simply do my half and win a championship.”
“That is the exhausting method to do it,” Antetokounmpo rapped upon the desk in entrance of him. “And that is the best way we did it.”
The championship celebration was as heat as they get. There was Giannis, the Finals MVP in champagne goggles, looping in his quarantined older brother and Bucks teammate, Thanasis, on a video name. There was Khris Middleton, one other Bucks longshot, a second-rounder who’d developed into an excellent scorer and repeatedly bailed out Milwaukee in these playoffs. There was Jrue Vacation, an arrival through a high-stakes commerce, who gave the Bucks a crucial defensive edge, the basketball equal of a shutdown cornerback. There was Bobby Portis Jr.— Bobby Portis! — now the honorary Mayor of Milwaukee, a do-anything crowd favourite who’d scored 16 within the closeout recreation.
Bobby! Bobby! Bobby!
Portis won’t ever pay for a bratwurst, cheese curd or beer in that city once more. None of those Bucks will. It was a magical end to an exhausting season, during which Milwaukee appeared doomed greater than as soon as.
Amid the trophy-hoisting, it was potential to overlook that the distinction between the Bucks being right here and the Bucks being house was an inch or so of Kevin Durant’s sneakers, because the lanky Brooklyn Internet appeared to have completed off Milwaukee within the Jap Convention semis with a three-pointer, till his toes have been revealed to be brushing atop the road. It was potential to overlook that Antetokounmpo had crumpled to the ground with an ugly-looking knee damage within the Jap Convention finals in opposition to Atlanta, and it appeared like his season was over, till it was identified to be a hyperextension, permitting Giannis to return versus Phoenix.
The margin between success and collapse — and reverberations for a complete franchise’s route — was actually that slender. However that’s sports activities. That’s typically the best way it goes, and luck means nothing in the event you don’t capitalize, which Milwaukee had finished.
As a group.
But in addition a group with a transcendent participant. It’s within the books now: Antetokounmpo stands amongst basketball’s biggest. Fifty factors in a clincher is first-ballot legend stuff. Giannis was already one of many NBA’s greatest tales, this child from Athens who grew up with little in a household of 5 brothers, three of whom now possess NBA championships (brother Kostas gained a title with the Los Angeles Lakers final season). Antetokounmpo has stated he didn’t begin taking part in basketball till he was 12. Assume on that for a second: there are highschool seniors on this nation who’ve been taking part in basketball longer than Giannis Antetokounmpo.
He’s nonetheless ascendant, nonetheless getting higher, nonetheless able to surprises, together with within the largest recreation of his life.
“Folks advised me I can’t make free throws,” Antetokounmpo stated. “I made my free throws tonight, and I’m a freaking champion.”