The Chronicle Herald (Metro)

Antetokoun­mpo stars in title win


They can’t deny Giannis Antetokoun­mpo, any more.

The Greek Freak is an NBA champion, an NBA Finals MVP and the main reason the city of Milwaukee is celebratin­g its first NBA title in 50 years.

For whatever reason, Antetokoun­mpo, as good as he has been winning two league MVPS before he even reached a Finals, never seemed to get the respect other elite players in the NBA automatica­lly were given.

But following this run, particular­ly the six games that made up these Finals, there can no longer be any question that Antetokoun­mpo is among that group that we call the greatest players in the game today.

Antetokoun­mpo didn’t come right out and say it as LEBron James did last September when he and the Lakers were crowned champs, but James’ words — “I want my damn respect” — could have easily been repeated last night by Milwaukee’s star.

Antetokoun­mpo began this series a question mark to even play, having sustained a hyperexten­ded knee two games earlier in the Eastern Conference final.

He played in that Game 1, albeit clearly not at full strength. But from that point on, Antetokoun­mpo has been otherworld­ly, overcoming whatever resistance the Phoenix Suns could put in his path.

He was so good, that even questions about his health stopped for good around Game 3. There was just no way he could still be hurt and playing at that level.

He capped the series off with his best performanc­e of the bunch in Tuesday night’s 105-98 series-clinching win. Antetokoun­mpo had 50 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks in the game.

“He’s a freak,” forward Pat Connaughto­n said of Antetokoun­mpo. “He’s always been a freak, and the things that he does in the weight room, the things that he does in physical therapy, the things he does to put his body in a position to go through the beating he goes through on a nightly basis, couple that with a hyper-extended knee, for him to be back in a game in the Finals in general was freakish.

“And then for him to do what he did throughout this Finals was incredible,” Connaughto­n said. “It’s awesome to have a front-row seat to it and awesome to watch it and it’s incredible because he’s an even better human being than he is a basketball player.

“We’ve all seen what he does on the biggest stage now after winning his first NBA Finals championsh­ip and being the Finals MVP, but he’s an even better person.”

Even his night at the free throw line, perhaps the one area of Antetokoun­mpo’s game that still lacks consistenc­y, was beyond criticism as he knocked down 17 of his 19 attempts.

It was his third 40-plus point night in a series in which he may have been as exceptiona­l defensivel­y as he was offensivel­y.

Few will ever forget his recovery to block what looked like a sure slam sunk from Deandre Ayton to win Game 4 and get the Bucks back on even terms with Phoenix.

He became just the seventh player in NBA history to score 50 in a Finals game.

Afterwards as the celebratio­n began on the floor, Antetokoun­mpo, after seeking out and hugging his family members on hand, made his way to an unoccupied area of seats and sat by himself, the emotion of the moment just taking over. Later in his media availabili­ty, he was asked what he had been thinking about as he sat there.

“The whole journey,” Antetokoun­mpo said, the tears resurfacin­g as he thought back to his childhood in Greece where just securing enough food for the next family meal was a hardship. “In order for me to be in this position, how much my parents sacrificed. How much my parents sacrificed. I saw that every day.

“My mom, she worked extremely hard every day for me to be in this position and she never pressured me to do other things. This is for my dad; that he’s watching from above and he can see it. And this is for my significan­t other, also. Every day, she helps me be better, a better person. She let me do what I’m supposed to do, and she takes care of my son and my next son.”

The Bucks looked like they were going to run away with this game from the outset.

They came out of the gate a little nervous, but no more than the Suns were with both teams committing uncharacte­ristic turnovers.

But by the end of the quarter the Bucks were up 13 and the city of Milwaukee was buzzing. In addition to the full house inside Fiserv Forum, there were a reported 65,000 other fans surroundin­g the building outside.

But that group was going to have to hold off on the celebratio­ns just a little longer as Chris Paul and the Suns weren’t going to let it happen that easy.

Paul, almost by himself, almost forced a Game 7.

He would finish with a Sunsbest 26 points including a huge second quarter in which the Suns turned a 13-point deficit into a five-point lead at the half.

The second half, though, was the Antetokoun­mpo show as the 26-year-old two-time MVP just took over the game, scoring 20 points in the quarter.

Again the Suns wouldn’t let the Bucks get away, keeping it close until the home side finally started to open up some distance between themselves and those stubborn Suns in the final few minutes.

Down the stretch it was a lot of Antetokoun­mpo again and just enough Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday and a dose of Bobby Portis to get it done.

Antetokoun­mpo was a unanimous selection for Finals MVP getting all 11 votes cast for the Bill Russell Award.

It was a no-brainer. Both Middleton and Holiday had their moments in this series, but it was Antetokoun­mpo who was the constant threat either protecting his own basket or attacking the opposition’s.

 ?? JEFF HANISCH • USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokoun­mpo celebrates with the NBA Finals MVP Trophy following the game against the Phoenix Suns following Game 6 of the 2021 NBA Finals at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee on Tuesday night.
JEFF HANISCH • USA TODAY SPORTS Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokoun­mpo celebrates with the NBA Finals MVP Trophy following the game against the Phoenix Suns following Game 6 of the 2021 NBA Finals at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee on Tuesday night.

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