No, the Milwaukee Bucks did not win Game Two. Yes, the Phoenix Suns had answers up their sleeves every time. No, the odds do not look great for the Bucks at this point. Yes, there are lots of frustrating points to be made about Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton’s extended strugglebus ride. But right now, we need to talk about Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Rewind your brain to last Wednesday, the day following Giannis’s gruesome fall in the clutches of Clint Capela. Don’t think of the injury (Hey ESPN, we don’t need to keep seeing that replay! Thanks!), think about the stomach-churning anxiousness in the 18 hours that followed. My mind went dark, presuming next season was a wash and questioning whether a player so reliant on athleticism would ever recover. I felt sick. Now, all I feel is joy.
Giannis filled up the stat sheet:— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) July 9, 2021
42 PTS | 12 REB | 4 AST | 3 BLK | 1 STL pic.twitter.com/MR47W30hNd
As his teammates clanked jumper after jumper, Giannis Antetokounmpo, our superstar, ascended another rung on the NBA’s historic ladder. With merely one healthy knee, Giannis refused to let his team fall back from a clearly superior Suns team. He mustered 12 points in the first half, but the third quarter is what everyone will remember. The scorching Suns never cooled, and Antetokounmpo’s offense was the lone oasis in that dry, dry desert.
Sure, there were the usual annoying triple attempts, but Giannis barreled, spun, side-stepped and fadeawayed his way to bucket after bucket to keep his team within spitting distance. As the hounding counting started on his free throw trips, his sped-up routine delivered just enough (11-18, 61.1%) to help Bucks fans keep breathing sighs of relief. The counters we’ve seen him employ all season (to mixed success) were all working when he found himself stonewalled from the paint. This was the culmination of all that work we’ve seen since 2019, and the Suns had no reasonable answers for him beyond wrapping him up to ensure the ball never left his hands.
There are myriad reasons this Milwaukee team has fallen short the past several years. Eric Bledsoe’s pumpkin play. Bud’s stubborn refusal to adjust or play his stars more. Khris Middleton’s icyhot play. But this team was always constructed to be Giannis Antetokounmpo’s team, and the fact is, he hadn’t delivered the same level of MVP play consistently in the Playoffs that we saw in the regular season. It looked like that same narrative might take hold through the first six games of this year’s Playoffs too. While Milwaukee swept Miami off the court, Giannis’s numbers were fairly pedestrian (for him). He entered the Nets series with a mission to dominate, but that didn’t seem to be his fate after two mediocre contests.
Since falling into that 0-2 hole against the Nets, Giannis has averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 0.9 steals and 1.1 blocks per game on 60.7 eFG%. He won Game Seven IN Brooklyn, withstanding Kevin Durant’s assault and willing this team over the scoring hump in overtime. He punished Atlanta’s interior until that horrific injury. And now, hobbled, hurting and hoping, he is trying to will his team back from yet another series deficit.
.@Giannis_An34 explains what he was trying to do during that third-quarter when he basically put the team on his back.— Lori Nickel (@LoriNickel) July 9, 2021
(And too many players dutifully watched the show instead of participating in it).
Hopefully - Giannis says – the rest of the team picks that up in in Game 3 pic.twitter.com/lpySQrsF0i
If there is any optimism I can impart to you for these next two days, it is that Giannis Antetokounmpo looked like he could be the best player in this series on Thursday evening. The Suns are so freakin’ complete, steady and impressive though, that even an all-time performance may not be enough to get over the hump. But a healthy, invigorated Giannis is the first step to switching that “4” in the corner of Milwaukee’s locker room whiteboard to an eventual zero.
Narratives change swiftly in the Playoffs, but nobody would’ve predicted a week ago that we’d already be talking about whether Giannis will get enough help from his supporting cast. Few performances warrant remembrance when muddied by the stench of a loss, but this was one worth carving out memory space for folks. So, when you find yourself pondering Khris and Jrue’s shot selection, playing big or small, and whether to keep pinching in on pick-and-roll coverage, find some time to go back and savor every second of Giannis’s Game Two performance.
Hope is in short supply when you’re down 0-2 in the Finals. But as it’s been since the beginning, in Giannis we trust.