Giannis Antetokounmpo simply had a series for the ages. Capped off by a half-century of points in game six to win the NBA championship for the Milwaukee Bucks for the first time in 50 years. This NBA Finals recap looks at the primary factors behind the Bucks winning these finals, and it came down to Giannis proving to be simply too powerful for the Phoenix Suns.
NBA Finals Recap: Giannis Antetokounmpo had a series for the ages
This was a tight series, especially the last three Bucks victories. It came down to better execution down the stretch to see them out. Milwaukee was sensational defensively and created many signature moments as we will discuss. Credit must also go to coach Mike Budenholzer for the culture he created, where everybody played hard for each other as a team. It was this culture and belief which helped see them through many of the tight and epic wins in their title run. Let’s take a deep dive into the factors behind the Bucks victory and why this was Giannis’ series for the ages.
Numbers highlighting Giannis’ NBA Finals Recap
Even before his dominant 50-point night to secure the title, Giannis proved why he is a two-time MVP winner. He rightfully can now add Finals MVP to his collection. He was sensational throughout the series. Bucks fans and the NBA as a whole held their collective breathes when he went down with the hyperextended knee that cost him the last few games of the conference finals. it was remarkable that he came back and played at the level he did in the finals. It was also a test of the Bucks’ resiliency that they made it to the finals despite missing their MVP for a portion. Showing what a great team unit they were.
Giannis contributed 50 points, 14 rebounds, and five blocks in Game 6- including 17-for-19 from free throw range and 16-for-25 from the field. Astounding numbers that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would have been proud of when he led the Bucks to their last title. Moreover, it was the third time in this year’s finals Giannis achieved at least 40 points and 10 rebounds. Throughout the series, he averaged 35.2 points and 13.2 rebounds over the six games. Shooting an insane 61% from the field. Dominant, superhuman, heroic. You name the superlative for the 26 year old’s historic series.
Bucks outlast vibrant Suns in the paint areas
Arguably where the series was won was in the paint. The Bucks scored 50 points in the paint in Game 6. It was apparent once the series went back to Milwaukee that Phoenix didn’t have enough size in the paint to combat the sheer force exhibited from the Bucks’ frontcourt. There was a disparity in the rebounds throughout this series. For instance, the Bucks outrebounded the Suns 53-37 in Game 6.
Also for the Suns, It wasn’t necessarily the case of a young team struggling on the biggest stage that stopped Phoenix. For much of the series, Phoenix looked the vibrant attacking force they had been through the regular season. When they took a 2-0 lead in this series, many pundits believed that the title going to the Valley was a foregone conclusion. Devin Booker had a sensational finals posting back-to-back 40-point nights in the series. They were especially bright in Game 5 where they shot 55% from the field, 68% from three, and 90% from the free-throw line. These are historic highs for a team in a finals game. Yet it still wasn’t enough in that game or the series. A reason for this has to be how immense Milwaukee was on the defensive end. P.J. Tucker, Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, and Giannis all were great in this series.
Milwaukee was just too strong on both ends of the court. Indeed the Bucks were a juggernaut in both paint areas and I feel this is where the biggest disparity lay. Phoenix couldn’t find anyone to hold Giannis in the paint. Milwaukee overcame Phoenix’s perimeter shooting by outscoring them by 11 points per game in the paint. Outscoring them by 13 points per game in transition and second chance opportunities also.
Phoenix has much to ponder but so much to be proud about
Monty Williams should look back on his magnificent coaching this year with pride. Let us not forget Phoenix won 19 games in total two seasons ago. Now they made it all the way to the finals after winning 51 regular-season games and 14 playoff games. One of the finest bits of coaching was picked up by the mics on the sidelines of Game 2. Williams took young center Deandre Ayton aside who was being run over by Giannis up to that point. He encouraged him by telling him he set a high bar for himself, and told him to not worry about stats but to “dominate the game with force.” That terrific coaching helped propel Ayton to make big plays on the defensive end to ensure the Suns took a 2-0 lead at the time. Although Ayton struggled mightily on the defensive end against Giannis all series, that advice really stood out as to the level of coach the Williams is. Especially in how he communicates with his players.
Where Phoenix goes from here however will be very difficult. On one hand, they have a young team full of ascending talents, in Mikal Bridges and Ayton and the best young scorer in the NBA in Booker, as well as a wonderful coach. They still have a question as to the status of Chris Paul going into next season, however. Paul has yet to commit to opting into the final year of his contract with the team. He was integral to the team and was their heart and soul, but this may have been his best opportunity to win a title. He may seek new pastures. However, If he does decide to stay with the team, Phoenix should be among the contenders again next year.
Questions still remain for Chris Paul
Paul may look back at these finals with regrets. By no means did he have a bad finals; statistically it was strong, but it was an uneven series. It started off fantastically for him, but as the series wore on he started to make uncharacteristic mistakes. Namely with turnovers. A lot of the credit has to go to the Bucks, particularly Holiday, for keying up on him and closing space around him. Known as the ‘Point God,’ the future Hall-of-Famer sets an extremely high bar with his play. He was incredible throughout the regular season and the entire playoffs. Yet it is hard not to point to his five-turnover game in Game 4, and key final turnover as a turning point in the series.
However, he still finished with 21.8 points per game and eight assists overall while shooting over 50% from the field. Statistically, his numbers were there, and he closed the series with a very strong Game 6, but finals are decided by the slimmest of margins. As a point of comparison, when Giannis saw the door of opportunity crack open to win he kicked it right down. That was the difference.
As mentioned in my previous article, I felt this was Paul’s opportunity to change his playoff legacy. This opportunity has passed now and we don’t know if he will have this kind of shot again to win his elusive ring.
Role Players step up for Bucks
It wasn’t just a story of the main protagonists in the series–Giannis edging out Booker and Paul. Key supporting roles were absolutely vital in this series for Milwaukee. Holiday was immense defensively. Case in point, his game-winning steal and transition alley-oop to Giannis to clinch Game 5. That play will go down as one of the most memorable defensive stops in finals history. He did a terrific job of closing lanes and making life extremely difficult for Paul to find his patented mid-range spots.
If there was a clutch performer award to go along with the MVP award, it would have to go to Middleton. Definitely “Robin” to Giannis “Batman,” he hit so many clutch buckets throughout the series. When the chips were down he was automatic, especially in the fourth quarter. He was also in contention for finals MVP with a 40-point night himself this series.
It wasn’t just the starters, but the ex-Knick Bobby Portis, who is now a beloved figure for Bucks fans, played an important role also, finishing off with 16 points from 60% shooting off the bench to close out Game 6. This was a great redemption story for Portis. He found himself a perfect home in Milwaukee. Loved by fans and teammates alike, playing a key bench role in bringing Milwaukee their first title in 50 years.
NBA Finals Recap: Three key Giannis moments to be remembered
This series will be remembered for three key moments- Giannis dropping 50 to seal the title; Holliday’s steal and alley-oop pass; and last but not least Giannis thunderous block. That block is befitting Giannis’ series for the ages. Alongside LeBron James‘ timeless signature block to win the Cleveland Cavaliers’ famous title over the Golden State Warriors. Giannis has his own signature block now. With a minute remaining in Game 4, Booker found the cutting Ayton, beating Tucker to the basket and Booker lobbed a perfect alley-oop to Ayton to seemingly tie the game. Not on Giannis’ watch. He leaped out of nowhere like a great white shark on an unsuspecting seal and thunderously blocked the ball away. It was a sensational play, one fitting for a champion.
Giannis held true to his promise to the Bucks faithful that he would stay and build a champion in Milwaukee. He had ample opportunity to leave for the game’s biggest markets in New York or Los Angeles, or build a superteam as most superstars have succumbed to that temptation. However, credit to Giannis, he was loyal to the city of Milwaukee and he gave them a championship. Providing a historic series for the ages.
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