Awesome. Phenomenal. Dominating. Heroic.
I am at a loss for words in describing the performance of the new ruler of Cagelandia – the one, the only, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis’ all-around demolition job in Game 6 of the NBA Championship was all the Milwaukee Bucks needed to finally close out a pesky Phoenix Suns side 4-2.
After falling behind 0-2 in Phoenix, and being given up for dead by many ardent basketball fanatics, Giannis willed his team to rise up from the dead, and administer 4 consecutive dramatic wins in varying fashion. In an era where Big 3s and Fab 4s band together to bring home the bacon, Giannis shrugged off the less-than-stellar performance of his partners – Kris Middleton and Jrue Holiday – and virtually carried the Bucks team SINGLEHANDEDLY to the coveted crown. What was truly amazing was how he overpowered the opposition in both the offensive and defensive ends of the court.
Giannis’ all-around brilliance, collecting a huge 50 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks in this close-out game, was one of the most dominating performance ever in the history of the NBA Finals closeout games. He is one of only 7 players – all others having made the Hall of Fame – to have made 50 points in the Finals, and the only 1 so far to have made the 50 points/10 rebounds/5 blocks level.
His 50 points tied him with Bob Petit for the highest ever in a Finals closeout game. Petit unleashed his 50 way back in 1958 for the St Louis Hawks. Giannis surpassed Michael Jordan’s modern-day 45-point performance in the Chicago Bulls’ Game 6 clincher against the Utah Jazz in 1998.
Giannis’ 17 for 19 free throws was not only his highest ever in his playoff records, it would overshadow the Suns’ entire team effort at 16 for 19. His 89.5% free throw percentage for Game 6 was a huge improvement, after accumulating a measly 55.6% for Games 1 to 5.
His monstrous 5 blocks not only erased 10 potential points. He was a huge presence as a second defender in the middle, always providing help defense against any incursions from the likes of Devin Booker and Chris Paul. His constant presence altered the Suns’ shots in a big way. The Suns’ 44.2% field goal percentage for Game 6 was their lowest ever for the series, with their Games 1 to 5 average at 50.04%.
Giannis joins the great Michael Jordan as the only players to win a regular season MVP, an All-Star Game MVP, a Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Award.
But more than all the numbers he registered in the Finals, the way Giannis clinched the title for a small market like Milwaukee makes it even more compelling. Lebron James won his titles by building superteams with the Miami Heat, followed by the Cleveland Cavs and finally, with the LA Lakers. Kevin Durant followed suit by joining a loaded Golden State Warriors’ team, and almost made it with the Brooklyn Nets. Kawhi Leonard won titles with a star-studded San Antonio Spurs and an already playoff-contending Toronto Raptors.
Not so with this Greek god, Giannis. Giannis grew with the Bucks. Nay, he grew the Bucks. He was there when the Bucks were mere fodder for such teams as the Heat, the Spurs and the Warriors. He was there suffering through the frustrating losses against the big market superteams. He was trounced by the Celtics and the Raptors and the Heat in successive playoff runs, using different versions of a Giannis Wall. He did not have a super superteam, but instead, developed a respectable triple threat with Kris Middleton and Jrue Holiday.
And he persevered. And he learned lessons from the losses.
Against all odds, he remained loyal. And steadfast in his dream to bring a title to the city that welcomed him with open arms. A city with a franchise that took a chance on an obscure foreign kiddo. A city that would offer him the chance for a better life.
For that alone, Milwaukee is rewarded with a crown. After 50 long years of waiting, another crown at last.
As for Giannis? For his loyalty, his single-mindedness, his strong belief that he could overcome all adversities, and his dedication to the trade, as evidenced by the endless hours of practice and pain, the gods have rewarded him. He is now on top of the world. Hail to the new King of the Cage Kingdom! Hail, Giannis!!!
For a closer look, just click on the pics. Cover pic courtesy of USA Today. Other photos courtesy of: sportingnews.com, washingtonpost.com, japantimes.co.jp, theathletic.com,nba.com, pressdemocrat.com, Aaron Gash (AP Photo), bendbulletin.com, heraldstandard.com, GMA Network, wsj.com and cnbc.com.