Jay C. Brandriet
I love Giannis Antetokounmpo. I’ve invested my time in cheering for him, and have been looking forward to the day he could possibly lead his team to the NBA mountain top.
Despite being a back to back league MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, Giannis has had some recent flame outs in the post season.
Defenses built walls, and Giannis struggled to stay inside of his strengths. His flaws shooting the ball were on full display.
His lack of being in the MVP conversation this last season, seemed to be a subconscious message from the voters. They were saying, “We picked you twice, and you let us down when it really counted.”
2021 NBA PLAYOFFS
Last year in the bubble, “The Greek Freak” and the Bucks were embarrassed by the Miami Heat. So in this pressure laden opportunity guess who Milwaukee got to take on first? The defending Eastern conference champion, Heat. May as well and jump head first into your demons. The Bucks won the series in a sweep.
In round 2, it got scarier. The Brooklyn Nets were the favorite to win the title. They got banged up along the way. Kevin Durant played some of the best ball of his life. After KD erupted in a game 5 victory, I text the following to Tony Abbott.
“Giannis? In this failure, I was proud of him. 34 points/64 percent from the field, 12 rebounds and 4 assists. He made wise decisions and was aggressive in clutch moments. He’s just got some clunky aspects to his offensive game that may exist for a couple more years? If he’s ever the best player in the league, he may need some breaks along the way.”
The “Freak” went on to dominate in games 6 and 7. His squad moved on to the conference Finals.
After a close Game 1 defeat to Atlanta, Giannis and the Bucks settled in and started to execute.
In Game 4, Antetokounmpo suffered a hyperextension that was hard to look at. Most of us assumed the Bucks were now toast.
Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and company came out firing on all cylinders in Games 5 and 6 to finish off the Hawks. Some notable sports commentators asked if the Bucks might actually be better without their franchise guy.
THE 2021 NBA FINALS
The Bucks were set to take on the red hot Phoenix Suns. It felt awkward to make a prediction without number 34. We now knew there was no significant damage to the structure of Antetokounmpo’s knee. There was an assumption he would give it a go at some point. I did the math and thought he would try to play by the third game of the series.
He was active for Game 1. Eight days after suffering what appeared to be a season ending injury, he was on the floor. I was blown away, but worried. In a loss, Giannis had 20 points, 17 rebounds, and an awesome chase down block. He looked vulnerable multiple times. Still, he played and it gave me hope.
In Game 2, he looked like himself. He scored 20 points in a single quarter. Milwaukee lost again. The majority picked the Suns to begin with, and now people were laughably saying “sweep.”
After that, “The Greek Freak” blew up. He terrorized Phoenix. The Bucks won four straight to deliver Milwaukee their first title in 50 years.
Giannis was so good, his press conferences had impact. His awareness of ego, pride, and humility were used as sports/life teaching tools.
He averaged 35.2 points with a field goal percentage of 62! He rounded things off with 13.2 rebounds and 5 dimes a night.
Antetokounmpo lived in the paint. He hit elegant jumpers and made hustle look fashionable. He was the strongest, the fastest, and the slickest passer.
His epic block and game sealing alley-oop were the signature moments of the Finals.
He milked his strengths, and stared down his weaknesses. When it was all on the line? He lived at the line. With 19 free throw attempts? You would have bet your house against him making 17 of them. You would have lost.
This was one of the most dynamic, forceful, performances in the history of the NBA.
His team was super, but wasn’t a “super team.”
Guess who Giannis is now?
He’s the best basketball player on earth.
To say it’s KD? You’re being stubborn. It’s close. Kevin can be “1B.”
Everyone needs breaks, but Antetokounmpo TOOK the crown!
At the tender age of 26, he is among the 30 greatest to ever play.
Jay C. Brandriet