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Big Bucks: Antetokounmpo paves way to title

by The Associated Press | July 21, 2021 at 6:49 a.m.
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) reacts during the second half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

MILWAUKEE -- Giannis Antetokounmpo ended one of the greatest NBA Finals ever with 50 points -- and a championship Milwaukee waited 50 years to win again.

Antetokounmpo had 50 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocked shots as the Bucks beat the Phoenix Suns 105-98 on Tuesday night to win the series 4-2.

It was the third game this series with at least 40 points and 10 rebounds for Antetokounmpo, a dominant, debut finals performance that takes its place among some of the game's greatest.

He shot 16 for 25 from the field and made 17 of 19 free throws -- a spectacular performance for any shooter, let alone one who was hitting just 55.6% in the postseason and was ridiculed for it at times.

He hopped around the court waving his arms with 20 seconds remaining to encourage fans to cheer, but it was way too late for that.

Their voices had been booming inside and outside for hours by then, having waited 50 years to celebrate a winner after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson led the Bucks to the championship in 1971.

In a season played played largely without fans, the Bucks had 65,000 of them packed into the Deer District outside, a wild party that figured to last deep into the Midwestern night.

Confetti rained down inside as fans chanted "Bucks in 6! Bucks in 6!" -- what began as a hopeful boast by former player turning out to be a prophetic rallying cry.

The Bucks became the fifth team to win the NBA Finals after trailing 2-0 and the first to do it 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 shot just 8 for 22 and missed all seven three-pointers after scoring 40 points in each of the last two games.

The teams that came into the NBA together as expansion clubs in 1968 delivered a fine finals, with the last three games all in the balance deep into the fourth quarter.

The Bucks won them largely because of Antetokounmpo, a two-time MVP in the regular season who raised his game even higher in the finals and was voted the NBA Finals MVP.

Exactly three weeks after suffering a knee injury that appeared to put his future in doubt, Antetokounmpo carried the Bucks to their first championship in half a century.

The Greek Freak delivered perhaps the best performance of his career at the best possible moment. Just as Abdul-Jabbar led Milwaukee to its first championship in 1971, the 6-11 Antetokounmpo made sure a big man also carried the Bucks to their next title.

He did all that while dealing with a hyperextended left knee that prevented him from playing in the last two games of the Eastern Conference finals against the Atlanta Hawks.

Antetokounmpo initially feared the injury was more serious and would keep him out of action for an entire year. He instead was back on the floor a week later for the start of the NBA Finals.

He collected 20 points and 17 rebounds in a Game 1 loss. He followed that up by producing at least 41 points and 12 rebounds in each of the next two games.

Then he played major roles in the two signature plays of this series.

First, he blocked Deandre Ayton's dunk attempt to prevent Phoenix from tying Game 4 with just over a minute left. And after Jrue Holiday made a steal with the Bucks protecting a one-point lead in the final minute of Game 5, Antetokounmpo raced down the court and was on the receiving end of Holiday's alley-oop that helped clinch the game.

He saved his finest outing for the championship clincher. Antetokounmpo became the first player to collect at least 40 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks in any playoff game since Shaquille O'Neal in 2001.

Antetokounmpo scored 20 points in the third quarter alone to help Milwaukee rally from a 47-42 halftime deficit, though the game was still tied 77-77 heading into the final quarter.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) goes to the basket over Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) and guard Devin Booker during the second half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) goes to the basket over Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) and guard Devin Booker during the second half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) goes to the basket between Phoenix Suns forward Frank Kaminsky, right, and forward Jae Crowder during the second half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) goes to the basket between Phoenix Suns forward Frank Kaminsky, right, and forward Jae Crowder during the second half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez (11) slam dunks over Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22), guard Devin Booker and forward Jae Crowder, right, during the second half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)
Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez (11) slam dunks over Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22), guard Devin Booker and forward Jae Crowder, right, during the second half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)
Milwaukee Bucks guard Jrue Holiday (21) is fouled by Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) during the second half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)
Milwaukee Bucks guard Jrue Holiday (21) is fouled by Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) during the second half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)
Fans gather in the Deer District for Game 6 of the NBA Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns at Fiserv Forum on Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. (Angela Peterson/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP)
Fans gather in the Deer District for Game 6 of the NBA Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns at Fiserv Forum on Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. (Angela Peterson/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP)
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) battles between Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson and Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) battles between Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson and Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) drives to the basket against Milwaukee Bucks guard Jrue Holiday (21) during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) drives to the basket against Milwaukee Bucks guard Jrue Holiday (21) during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) battles under the basket against Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) battles under the basket against Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) hugs Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer after defeating the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. The Bucks won 105-98. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) hugs Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer after defeating the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. The Bucks won 105-98. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Print Headline: Big Bucks

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