MILWAUKEE – Giannis Antetokounmpo had the Larry O’Brien Trophy on one arm, the NBA Finals MVP trophy on the other, and there was a cigar on the table in front of him.
All the work it took to lift the Milwaukee Bucks from a team that won 15 games when he was a rookie to one with 16 wins this postseason is finally over.
“This is the time to celebrate,” said Antetokounmpo.
Milwaukee waited 50 years for that.
Antetokounmpo finished one of the best finals in the NBA with 50 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots as the Bucks beat the Phoenix Suns 105-98 on Tuesday night to win an entertaining 4-2 series and cap off a happy return to a fan. filled the postseason after last year’s NBA bubble.
It was the third game of this series with at least 40 points and 10 rebounds for Antetokounmpo, a dominant late-debut performance that ranks among some of the best in the game. Antetokounmpo finished with 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game while shooting 61.8%, the first player in finals history to reach those numbers.
He shot 16 of 25 from the field and made an incredible 17 of 19 free throws, a spectacular display for any shooter, let alone one who was hitting just 55.6% in the postseason and was ridiculed for it at times.
“People told me that I can’t take free throws and I took them tonight. And I’m a bloody champion, ”said Antetokounmpo.
He jumped across the court waving his arms with 20 seconds left to encourage fans to cheer, but it wasn’t necessary. Their voices had been echoing in and out for hours by then, having waited 50 years to celebrate a winner after Lew Alcindor, before becoming Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Oscar Robertson led the Bucks to their first championship in 1971. .
“To the city, I’m sure it means everything,” said Khris Middleton, the other player to leave that team 15-67 in 2013-14. “They’ve seen the work we’ve done over the years to get them to this point.”
In a season played largely played without fans, the Bucks had 65,000 of them packed into the Deer District outside, a wild feast that he guessed would last well into the Midwest night. The party wasn’t bad on the inside either: confetti fell on the inside as fans chanted “Bucks on 6! Dollars in 6! “- a hopeful boast from the former player that turned out to be a prophetic rallying cry.
“I hope you enjoyed it as we do now,” Middleton added.
The Bucks became the fifth team to win the NBA Finals after trailing 2-0 and the first to do so by winning the next four games since Miami against Dallas in 2006.
Chris Paul scored 26 points to end his first NBA Finals appearance in his 16th season. Devin Booker added 19 points but was just 8 of 22 and missed all seven 3s after scoring 40 points in each of the last two games.
“There’s a pain that comes with the end of the season,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “But I’ve never dealt with this and I’m thankful, like I said, but I know this is going to hurt for a while.”
Teams that came to the NBA together as expansion clubs in 1968 had an excellent final, with the last three games on the line until the fourth quarter.
The Bucks won them in large part thanks to Antetokounmpo, a two-time MVP in the regular season who elevated his game even further in the Finals and was voted the unanimous MVP of the NBA Finals.
He was the star of these finals in every way, from his powerful game on the court to his humble thoughts in interviews to taking time after Tuesday night’s win to find kids high-fives amid the celebrations. . She wept after talking about the sacrifices her family endured growing up in Greece.
He did all of this after missing the last two games of the Eastern Conference finals with a hyperextended left knee, an injury he feared could be serious enough to end his season.
Think about what people would have missed.
What started as a gradual increase for Antetokounmpo and the Bucks accelerated in recent years and they thought they could be here for the last two seasons. They had the NBA’s best record in 2018-19, but blew a 2-0 lead against Toronto in the Eastern Conference finals.
They returned with the best record again last season, but never regained their momentum after the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic in March. They were eliminated in the second round by Miami in the bubble.
The Bucks traded for Jrue Holiday before this season and while they weren’t as strong in the regular season, they were finally ready for the NBA Finals.
And Milwaukee was ready for the moment.
Middleton scored 17 points and Bobby Portis came off the bench with 16. Holiday had 12 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds to accompany his usual solid defense that ultimately helped cool Booker off.
“I think it’s just a credit to the players,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We have been pushing. We have tried to improve. Players embrace everything. They are incredibly easy to train. They take it, they absorb it and they make the most of it. “
Fans began filling the streets and restaurants in the afternoon on what felt like a Milwaukee vacation. The Brewers moved up their home game against Kansas City to play in the afternoon to accommodate Milwaukee fans, and Brewers star Christian Yelich, who was part of the crowd inside the Fiserv Forum.
The game was tied at 77 after three quarters, but Antetokoumpo had 13 points in the fourth to ensure Milwaukee didn’t have to return to Phoenix for Game 7 on Thursday.
The Suns returned to the postseason for the first time since 2010, but they remain without a title and have never won more than two games in their three NBA Finals appearances.
“Probably no one expected us to be where we are except us,” Paul said. “But it is what it is. As I said throughout the season with our team, there are no moral victories.”
Suns: The Suns scored the fewest points in a first quarter this postseason when they were 16.… Deandre Ayton, who was shooting 67.6% in the postseason, was 4 of 12 for 12 points.
Bucks: Brook Lopez had 10 points and eight rebounds. … Milwaukee’s only other appearance in the NBA Finals was a loss in 1974.
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