In Game 3. Antetokounmpo Didn’t Do All The Work


MILWAUKEE – Approx. 3:44 left in the first halfIn Game 3 of the NBA finals, the Milwaukee Bucks were leading the Phoenix Suns by 8 points with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s basket. It was a crucial opportunity to gain momentum going into the break and Bucks Coach Mike Budenholzer pulled Antetokounmpo from the game to give his superstar some rest.

Rest minutes were a disaster for Antetokounmpo in the first two games of the finals. In Game 3 on Sunday, the Suns looked set to repeat. Shortly after Antetokounmpo left the game, Suns backup guard Cameron Payne and-1 lay down Milwaukee’s lead to 5.

But the Bucks remained standing. PJ Tucker found 3, and after a quick break from backup forward Bobby Portis, the Bucks widened the lead to 10. Antetokounmpo re-entered the game with 1:32 left in the first half. It was the first time the entire series had been in better shape than when he split with the Bucks.

The Suns were going to close the game again, but that stretch was a microcosm of how the Bucks brought themselves back to the series, closing the final lead in two games to one. In Games 1 and 2, Milwaukee was minus-27 on the rare occasions Antetokounmpo was off the court. On Sunday, Milwaukee even played Phoenix in the same minutes.

The supporting cast appeared and made Antetokounmpo’s life easier. This second quarter, the Bucks beat the Suns by 18 points. won 120-100 matches.

“Obviously Giannis can go there and score 40 all the time, but when everyone is involved, that unlocks him a lot more,” Portis said. He had his first double-digit win in the series with 11 points and 8 rebounds from the bench.

And Antetokounmpo was magnificent once again. This was all the more remarkable considering that less than two weeks ago his season was in jeopardy due to an overstretched knee. He followed Thursday’s 42-point performance in Game 2 with a 41-point burst in Game 3. It was even 13 for 17 points from the free throw line. He became the first player to score 40 points and get at least 10 rebounds in two consecutive final games. Since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000, by StatMuse.

When the prospect of Antetokounmpo scoring 40 or more goals in four consecutive games arose, as Michael Jordan did for the Chicago Bulls in the 1993 final against the Suns, Antetokounmpo intervened.

“I’m not Michael Jordan,” Antetokounmpo said, and later added, “All I care about right now is there’s one more happening, that’s all.”

All 14 of Antetokounmpo’s baskets were in the rim on Sunday night, an impressive feat considering the Suns strategically used a zone defense to prevent this.

“He’s physical,” Suns guard Cam Johnson said. “When he’s downhill, when he gets to the basket, when he’s at the free throw line, he’s encouraging him to keep going. And he’s throwing free throws tonight and that opens up his whole game. So it’s up to us to stop him, give him more resistance. Balancing that physical aspect of the game it’s hard, especially if it feels too harsh to you. But you just have to do it.”

But post-season Antetokounmpo has not been a great one. always turned into a win. Of course, it was Game 2 loss against the Suns. But also in the opening game of the Eastern Conference finals against the Atlanta Hawks, Antetokounmpo had 34 points, 12 rebounds and 9 assists. Bucks lost.

In the semi-finals against the Nets, Antetokounmpo racked up 34 points in Games 1 and 5. Milwaukee lost both games. Antetokounmpo has rarely had a bad game in this end-of-season run. Instead, it was his teammates who were unreliable.

Somewhat paradoxically, the absence of Antetokounmpo didn’t always mean certain doom for the Bucks either. The astonishing supporting roster took a win against the Hawks in Games 5 and 6 with no Antetokounmpo playing.

In Q3 on Sunday, the Suns did a few mini-workouts to break the Bucks’ lead and make the game competitive. At one point, the difference was reduced to 6. But with every step, Bucks quarterback Jrue Holiday stopped the bleeding with a tough 3-pointer, often stepping back, one of the hardest shots to make in basketball. He hit four 3-pointers in the third half and finished with 21 points and 9 assists.

“We need him to keep playing like this,” Antetokounmpo said of Holiday. “We trust him. He is our leader. He is our quarterback. He is one of our goalscorers. He is one of our defenders. He is a great basketball player and will continue to find ways to be successful.”

At his best, Holiday has been a savior for the Bucks, as in the series riveting game against the Hawks when Antetokounmpo scored 27 points without playing. But he often seemed lost in the finals: missing open shots, aimlessly entering traffic, or failing to make the right pass. Holiday in his first two games against Phoenix Shot a dismal 11 for 35 off the field.

Holiday – and the rest of the Bucks – have to take their open shots, especially when the Suns play a zone to try to disrupt Antetokounmpo’s path to the basket. On Sunday, the Bucks were effective 14 (39 percent) from 3 to 36. His shots made the Suns pay for sending more defenders to Antetokounmpo. The more the Suns have to respect Milwaukee’s environmental game, the more room it will create for Antetokounmpo.

Portis put it best:

“When the men shoot, it gets harder for the opposing team because they’re really playing one-on-one now and really good luck with that.”

After a few laughs, Portis muttered Antetokounmpo’s nickname: “Greek Freak.”


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