Giannis Antetokounmpo on Tuesday delivered a historic 50-point performance that led the Milwaukee Bucks to their first NBA title since 1971 by defeating the Phoenix Suns 105-98.
The Bucks captured the best-of-seven NBA Finals by four games to two, becoming only the fifth team to claim the crown after dropping the first two contests.
Antetokounmpo — only the seventh player in finals history with a 50-point game, including 17 of 19 free throws — helped the Bucks to finish the playoffs with a 10-1 home record, ending a half-century title drought.
“I want to thank Milwaukee for believing in me. I want to thank my teammates for playing hard with me,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’m thankful I was able to get it done.”
“He put us on his back. When we needed him, he told us to just feed him,” Bucks guard Khris Middleton said of the 26-year-old Greek forward. “It’s amazing to be on this journey with him.”
Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) Antetokounmpo equaled Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players to take NBA Finals MVP and NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season.
“He’s a special human being. I’ve learned so much from him. He’s a special leader,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “These players are champions every day. They’ve embraced getting better every day.”
“I’m happy I was able to do it with this team for Milwaukee,” Antetokounmpo said. “And coach Bud says we have to do it again.”
The Suns were foiled in their bid for the first crown in their 53-year history. Phoenix guard Chris Paul, playing in the first NBA Finals of his 16-year at age 36, led the Suns with 26 points.
“It hurts — badly,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “But I’m also grateful we had this chance to play for a championship. The fourth quarter, it was pretty evident we just couldn’t score enough. We just couldn’t convert.”
Relentless Antetokounmpo scored 12 of his 20 third-quarter points in a 16-8 Bucks run that gave Milwaukee a 58-55 lead only 4 minutes, 34 seconds into the second half.
He was the first with a 20-point quarter in the finals since Jordan, and the game hung on a knife’s edge, deadlocked at 77-77 entering the fourth quarter.
Antetokounmpo scored eight for the Bucks in a 10-6 Milwaukee run for a 94-88 lead midway into the fourth quarter. Time and again, he would drive to the basket when the Suns cut into the Bucks’ lead.
Phoenix’s Jae Crowder made two free throws to pull the Suns within 100-96 with 1:14 remaining, but Middleton answered with a jumper and added two free throws for an eight-point Milwaukee lead.
Paul missed a three-pointer, Middleton grabbed the rebound and Bucks fans began celebrating.
“They made timely shots — we didn’t,” Paul said. “It was the same old thing as just about every game: the free throws — you know what I mean?”
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