The big question surrounding Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo has quickly changed from “Will he be available to play in the NBA Finals?” to “How are the Suns going to stop him?”
The two-time NBA MVP followed up a sensational Game 2 with another outstanding effort, totaling 41 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in Milwaukee’s 120-100 win on Sunday night. Antetokounmpo hit 14 of his 23 field goal attempts, and perhaps even more impressively, he drained 13 of his 17 free throw attempts.
“I’m just out there trying to enjoy the game, trying to play, trying to put myself in a position to be successful. That’s what I’m trying to do,” Antetokounmpo said after Game 3. “You know, when I take each possession at a time, when I have a possession in front of me, I try to get myself in a position, myself in a position to be successful. Sometimes it’s driving the ball. Sometimes it’s sealing down in the lane. Sometimes it’s setting a screen. I just try to read each possession at a time, and each possession is different.
“I might say, OK, I’ll attack this guy this time, but for some reason that’s not working. So, I’m not trying to like have a game plan or strategy in my head. I just want to enjoy the game. I just want to be out there, have fun and compete at a high level and read each possession at a time, which every possession is different.”
That’s a simple explanation, but Antetokounmpo’s performance in this series has truly been historic. Just take a peek at the numbers . . .
40 and 10
Antetokounmpo became the second player in NBA Finals history to total 40-plus points and 10-plus rebounds in consecutive games. The only other guy to hit those numbers? Shaquille O’Neal, who pulled off the feat in the 2000 NBA Finals.
One key to Antetokounmpo’s scoring surge has been his free throw shooting. Prior to Game 3, he stood at 55 percent from the line. In the last two contests, he has hit 24 of his 35 attempts (68.6 percent).
Speaking of free throws, check out Shaq’s Game 2 line. Yes, that’s 39 free throw attempts, an NBA playoff record.
28 and 24
The Suns scored 40 points in the paint in Game 3. Antetokounmpo had 28 points in the paint by himself, including 24 points in the restricted area. In the past 25 seasons, only O’Neal and LeBron James have scored more paint points in an NBA Finals game.
This shot chart really tells the entire story.
40, 10 and 5
Not only was Antetokounmpo dominant in the scoring and rebounding departments, but also in creating for teammates by dishing out six assists. Antetokounmpo is just the fourth player to hit the thresholds of 40 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in an NBA Finals game since 2000. That list includes O’Neal, James, Kevin Durant and Jimmy Butler.
“[Antetokounmpo is] a great playmaker, screener, passer and he does so many great things,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I think when he’s conscious of doing a little bit of everything, he’s very capable and that’s when he’s at his best.”
Antetokounmpo has totaled 103 points in the NBA Finals, the fourth-most points by a player in his first three career Finals games. He lands behind Rick Barry (122 in 1967), Allen Iverson (106 in 2001) and Willis Reed (104 in 1970).
Despite their best efforts, Barry and Iverson came up short in their quests for a championship in those series. Reed ended up winning the title with the Knicks, famously taking the floor for Game 7 despite dealing with a severe thigh injury.
Will Antetokounmpo capture a ring in his first trip to the NBA Finals? Or will the Suns find a way to make him look like a mere mortal?