I’d like to point you to the following two stat lines:
Conference Semifinal Series Stats
Both pushed series to the brink against suffocating defenses, even in the absence of key players alongside them. One invited rapturous praise and logical leapfrogging to a championship that made the transitive property chuckle. The other has elicited respect, admiration, modest debate and, I think finally, acceptance.
Player A is Giannis Antetokounmpo during the Boston series.
Player B is Kevin Durant during last year’s Bucks-Nets series.
For much of last offseason, a tidy 1A/1B argument was used to keep Giannis and Durant atop the league’s best players ranking. Even I admitted what Durant did was incredible and likely gave Giannis a bit of short shrift. If you’re someone like me who enjoys listening the national pods, and still got unwisely, irrationally upset over the slighting of Giannis, this offseason should provide calmer airwaves.
For now, the Giannis Antetokounmpo debate has concluded. He reigns alone as the best player in the league.
If you wanted a sliver of a silver lining to come out of the faux “Bucks blew the last game of the season to avoid Brooklyn” narrative, it did provide us a tidy way to directly compare how Giannis performed shorthanded against this Celtics D versus Kevin Durant. Advantage Giannis.
In reality, there shouldn’t have been all that much room for debate given the 50-piece nugget of a capper he put on the Finals last year, but this season’s postseason performance left any more quibbling null and void.
He can instill fear at the rim and still switch out onto guards.
He can operate as a roll threat who draws in defenders and can finish on the short roll.
He can operate as the ball handler in the pick-and-roll, taking advantage of even a modicum of space with a devastating downhill attack, pulling up for a midrange or drawing help and kicking to teammates.
He can single-handedly keep a team within spitting distance throughout a quarter with his scoring ability.
He even posted the best free throw rate (67%) in the Playoffs since 2017-18.
Giannis was everywhere in the Boston series, whose entire gameplan and defense revolved around shutting him down through digging, flopping, switching, whatever was necessary. While his offensive efficiency was below his usual standards, the sheer burden he carried was evident with his slumping shoulders and sagging onto the bench as the Game Seven buzzer sounded.
In the face of losing his best offensive partner, Giannis responded by nearly pushing his team past a championship contender practically singlehandedly. He scored nearly 35% of the team’s total points throughout this entire series. So when you hear anyone this offseason trying to toss players into the Giannis tier, it’s okay to kindly wave your hand and rest comfortably in the knowledge that should’ve been clear after last offseason.
Losses sting, but legacies sustain. Giannis may be gone, but a virtuoso performance in what is likely the defining Playoff series of the season, that’s gonna stick around.