Giannis Antetokounmpo’s first free throw of the night rolled ever-so slowly around the rim, as if time stopped for a few seconds to determine the fate of the NBA universe. It rolled, rolled some more, then finally rolled in, as Milwaukee’s jam-packed FiServ Forum let out a collective exhale.
The only dent in the Bucks’ two-time MVP’s armor has been his free throw shooting, and more specifically, the mechanics of his jump shot. In Milwaukee’s closeout 105-98 win over the Suns in Game 6, Antetokounmpo’s armor was impenetrable.
The Suns dared The Greek Freak to shoot, and he made them pay: He hit a three, he hit off the dribble shots in the mid range, and he hit 17 of 19 free throws in the most important game of his life.
Antetokounmpo finished with a game-high 50 points to go with 13 rebounds and five blocks. He shot 16-of-25 from the field and used his brute strength to dominate whichever Suns player dared defend him. In transition, it was the euro-step finish. In the half court, he put his shoulder down and went through whoever was in front of him.
And in the 2020-21 NBA season, it’s the Milwaukee Bucks who can call themselves NBA champions. He didn’t have to leave the small-market franchise that drafted him after all.
Antetokounmpo looked comfortable from the opening tip, as expected of a player looking to close the NBA Finals out at home. The moment was never too big for him. On a night where no other Bucks player scored more than 17 points, their best player put the team on his back and delivered, like he said he would when he was first drafted in 2013.
Chris Paul broke free from his slump with a 26-point performance, but Devin Booker scored just 15 points on 4-of-11 shooting from the field for the Suns. In each team’s most important game of the season, the final result was always going to come down to star power, and Milwaukee’s star shined brighter than both of Phoenix’s combined.
And now the conversations can begin about Antetokounmpo in NBA history.
Had Paul led the Suns to a championship this season, he would have been a lock for third-best point guard of all time behind Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas. Antetokounmpo is now a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, and NBA champion and an NBA Finals MVP at age 26.
The Greek Freak is already one of the best international basketball players in NBA history, yes up there with Dirk Nowitzki. LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant may have found a worthy suitor of the torch that’s passed down from the league’s brightest generational stars.
Antetokounmpo’s biggest assist came not from Middleton or Holiday, but from Bobby Portis, whose 16 points off the bench paled in comparison to the energy and excitement he generated for the crowd and his team. The Bucks should sign Portis to a rest-of-the-career deal the way he played and performed in front of his fans.
That same kind of deal is likely already understood between Antetokounmpo and the Bucks brass after he delivered Milwaukee its first NBA championship in nearly 50 years. The last time the Bucks won big, it was another generational talent in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who led the team.
Abdul-Jabbar now has some company in NBA lore. Antetokounmpo is an all-time great, and now he has the hardware to show for it.