Giannis Antetokounmpo made the most of his maiden NBA Finals appearance as the Greek forward was the unanimous winner of the championship series’ most valuable player award after leading the Milwaukee Bucks to their first title in 50 years.
After losing the first two games of the NBA’s best-of-seven championship series, Antetokounmpo put the Bucks on his back and led the way in four consecutive wins to secure his status as one of the game’s greatest players.
“I never thought I’m going to be 26 years old, with my team playing the NBA Finals,” Antetokounmpo told reporters. “I was just happy being a part of this journey.
“But I never thought I would be sitting here with this right here and this right here (the championship and MVP trophies.) We’ve come a long way.”
Antetokounmpo, who was born and raised in Athens to Nigerian parents, joins Dirk Nowitzki (2011), Tony Parker (2007), Tim Duncan (1999, 2005 and 2003) and Hakeem Olajuwon (1994 and 1995) as the only international players to be named NBA Finals MVP.
It was a remarkable NBA Finals debut for the 26-year-old Antetokounmpo, especially considering he missed the final two games of the previous series after suffering a gruesome-looking hyperextension of his left knee.
But he played every game of the NBA Finals and averaged 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds and five assists.
Antetokounmpo saved his best for last as he had a playoff career-high 50 points in the championship-clinching game at home to go along with 14 rebounds and five blocks.
And while free-throw shooting has long been his glaring weakness, Antetokounmpo stepped up on Tuesday by going 17-of-19 from the line.
“It’s hard to find more words to describe what Giannis does,” said Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer. “But the way he made his free throws, the way he did everything, stepped up, the poise, the confidence, the leadership … He’s off the charts.”
Antetokounmpo became just the second player in history with three 40-point, 10-rebound games in the NBA Finals, joining Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal.
He also produced two of the signature moments of the NBA Finals, a jaw-dropping block on Deandre Ayton that helped secure a victory that evened the series at two games apiece and an alley-oop slam dunk to seal Game Five.
When six-foot-11 (2.11m) Antetokounmpo made his NBA debut in 2013 with Milwaukee, one of the league’s smallest markets, he was far from a household name.
Those who could not pronounce Antetokounmpo’s last name would refer to him as “The Greek Freak” — a nickname that has stuck — given the athletic ability and ballhandling skills for someone of his size.
But after a rather modest start to his NBA career Antetokounmpo has proven to be a dominant force worthy of the massive five-year contract extension worth an estimated $228 million he signed with Milwaukee last year.
When Antetokounmpo gets out in transition, he is virtually unstoppable on the court and, likewise, when he is down low in the paint his length allows him to often attack the rim without even taking a dribble.
“I don’t know how many words you need to use beyond 50 points in a close out game in an NBA Finals. Pretty much sums it all up,” said Bucks center Brook Lopez.
“It’s so indicative of who Giannis is as a player, as a person. He had to — he has that mindset always to just take care of business.”