The Milwaukee Bucks Win the N.B.A. Championship
MILWAUKEE – Half a century ago, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – a young goliath then known as Lew Alcindor – led the Milwaukee Bucks to their first championship. For decades, that was the only time the franchise had reached this height.
That is to say until now.
On Tuesday night, the Bucks wrapped up their comeback to greatness. They are once again led by a monster with unique skills, this one, a 26-year-old Greek player nicknamed the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo. On his home turf, Milwaukee beat the Phoenix Suns, 105-98, in Game 6 of the NBA Finals to win his second championship and end a grueling NBA season of injuries and disruption from the coronavirus pandemic.
“It should make every person, every child, anyone in the world to believe in their dreams,” said a jubilant Antetokounmpo, who is also of Nigerian descent, after the game. He added: “I hope I give people around the world, Africa, Europe, give them hope that it can be done. Eight and a half years ago, before entering the league, I had no idea where my next meal would come from. My mom used to sell stuff on the streets.
Antetokounmpo had one of the greatest performances in NBA Finals history, scoring 50 points – a career high in the playoffs – and adding 14 rebounds. As he has done for most of his career, Antetokounmpo made his way to the basket using a range of rotational movements and brute force. Even from the free throw line, where he struggled, he was nearly perfect, at 17 for 19. He was also a defensive force, blocking five shots. By the time the final buzzer sounded, there was no doubt who would be named the series’ Most Valuable Player.
“Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t be or what you can’t do,” Antetokounmpo said. “People have told me I can’t do free throws. I made my free throws tonight. And I’m a hell of a champion.
The Suns kept the decisive competitive game in the second half. 36-year-old Phoenix playmaker Chris Paul finished with 26 points. Devin Booker, the Suns scoring dynamo, struggled, scoring 19 points on 22 shots. For Paul, the loss was particularly crushing, as the eternal All-Star in his 16th season, still chasing his elusive championship.
“It’s difficult,” said Paul. “Great group of guys, one hell of a season, but this one is going to hurt for a while.”
Bobby Portis, a reserve forward for Milwaukee and a fan favorite known for his demonstrative exhortations, scored 16 points off the bench. The crowd chanted his name every time he scored.
The championship was the culmination of a remarkable rise for Antetokounmpo, two-time winner of the league’s Most Valuable Player award. He entered the NBA as a slim prospect, drafted outside of the Top 14 picks, a group known as the Lottery which is seen as a sign of impending stardom. He has since established himself as one of the best players in Bucks history.
In its eighth season, the Championship fills the last glaring hole in a resume that includes five All-Star selections and a Defensive Player of the Year award. The best stars are often judged by how many championship rings they own and how they’ve earned them. Antetokounmpo won his title with the franchise that drafted him, in an NBA era when the best players are often on the go.
In the previous two seasons, the Antetokounmpo Bucks finished the regular season with the best record in the Eastern Conference and were eliminated in the playoffs ahead of the final, raising questions as to whether Antetokounmpo could be the one to truly lift. the team. Opponents exploited his below average shooting ability.
Going into this season, there were murmurs that he might leave the Bucks in free agency. Instead, Antetokounmpo bet on Milwaukee in December by signing a so-called super max expansion worth nearly a quarter of a billion dollars. He then delivered a dominant run in the playoffs, dispelling any doubts about his status as a superstar.
“This is my city. They trust me. They believe in me. They believe in us,” Antetokounmpo said. “Even when we lost the series, they were on our side. Obviously I wanted to get the job done.
Antetokounmpo then referred to the “easy” decision of some NBA stars to go into free agency or request trades so they can team up with other stars.
“I could go to a great team and just do my part and win a championship,” he said, adding: “But that’s the hard way to do it.”
He hammered the table for emphasis.
It helped Milwaukee play and trade for Jrue Holiday, a versatile and renowned player without the pedigree of perennial All-Star appearances. The Bucks sent a package to New Orleans usually reserved for a bona fide star, including several veterans and several draft picks. The bet was won: Holiday provided Antetokounmpo with invaluable help on both sides of the ball when the Bucks needed it most, especially with a 27-point performance and 13 assists in Game 5.
During the regular season, the Bucks finished third in the East, behind the Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers. Milwaukee has been helped in part by the health of its major players, who have largely avoided serious injury and coronavirus infections. In March, the Bucks traded with Houston to acquire PJ Tucker, an experienced forward with a reputation as a tough defenseman and reliable shooter.
Milwaukee’s playoff race looked like it was on the verge of collapsing on several occasions. Once again, coach Mike Budenholzer, in his third season with the Bucks, has come under scrutiny over his struggles with making adjustments against strong defenses or finding more creative ways to use Antetokounmpo. And two-time All-Star Khris Middleton was once again faced with the question of whether he was a good enough assistant to Antetokounmpo, given his inconsistent playoff shot.
“It’s hard to find more words to describe what Giannis does,” Budenholzer said, adding, “He’s off the charts.”
In the semifinals, the Bucks faced the Nets, led by trio of superstars Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden. Milwaukee lost the first two games of the series, including a 39-point blowout in Game 2. But the Nets were hampered by injuries to Irving and Harden, and Antetokounmpo put in his own performances to extend the series to seven. matches. In the last game, a jump shot from Durant at the end of the settlement came within an inch of the Bucks’ season end: his toe was on the 3-point line, so the shot didn’t. was worth a match equal to 2 points and not a winner of Game 3. Instead, with Antetokounmpo’s 40 points and 13 rebounds, the Bucks won the deciding overtime game in Brooklyn.
In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks, with the series tied at two games apiece, Antetokounmpo awkwardly landed and fell to the ground holding his left knee, raising fears that he is not the latest in a series of NBA stars. running out of time because of a serious injury. With his return date uncertain, the Bucks relied on Holiday and Middleton to win Games 5 and 6 and send Milwaukee to their first NBA Final since 1974.
Antetokounmpo’s injury turned out to be just a hyperextension, allowing him to return for the championship round. In the final, the Suns won the first two home games, marking the third straight series in which the Bucks have faced a deficit. Antetokounmpo’s 41 points in Game 3 in Milwaukee helped turn the tide as the Bucks won 120-100.
In Game 4, the Bucks came back 9 points in the fourth quarter and tied the series behind Middleton’s 40 points. But that game will be remembered for Antetokounmpo’s late-game block over Suns center Deandre Ayton, one of the most important defensive games in NBA Finals history.
With solid momentum in the back, the Bucks returned to Phoenix and put the Suns on the brink of Game 5, highlighted by an alley-oop to Holiday’s Antetokounmpo at the end of the game. Entering Game 6, Antetokounmpo averaged 32.2 points, 13 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game in the final.
Following Tuesday’s buzzer, an emotional Antetokounmpo hugged former Bucks goalie Brandon Jennings, who played in the NBA from 2009 to 2018 and was briefly Antetokounmpo’s teammate. It was Jennings who once enthusiastically predicted that Milwaukee would beat the more talented Miami Heat in six games in a 2013 playoff series. The hugely inaccurate prediction became a rallying cry for Milwaukee’s fan base and made Jennings something of a cult hero.
Fans chanted, “Bucks in six!” throughout the series. These chants were deafening after the game, as the audience was overjoyed that Jennings’ prophecy had finally come true.
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