The Milwaukee Bucks won their first NBA championship in 50 years with a 105-98 win over the visiting Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night.
Exactly three weeks after suffering a knee injury that appeared to put his role in the Finals in doubt, Giannis Antetokounmpo carried Milwaukee to their first championship in half a century.
With the victory, the Bucks clinched the NBA Finals 4-2 and became only the fifth team to win the best-of-seven championship series after losing the first two games.
The ‘Greek Genius’ delivered arguably the best performance of his career at the best possible moment and now can add an NBA Finals MVP award to his two regular-season MVP trophies.
Just as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led Milwaukee to their first championship in 1971, the 6ft 11in Antetokounmpo made sure a big man also carried the Bucks to their next title.
Antetokounmpo was an easy choice for the Bill Russell Finals MVP award after collecting 50 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks. He had at least 40 points and 10 rebounds in three of the six games in this series.
Chris Paul had 26 points and five assists for the Suns, who dropped four games in a row after taking a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Phoenix’s Devin Booker missed an open look from three-point range on the right wing and Khris Middleton made two free throws with 44.7 seconds left to give the Bucks a 104-96 advantage.
On the previous possession, moving to his right from the top of the key, Middleton took a handoff from Antetokounmpo at full stride, rose up and knocked down a clutch jumper with 56.9 seconds left, putting Milwaukee up 102-96. That was the answer to a pair of Jae Crowder free throws at the 1:14 mark.
Booker’s run-out and contested layup put the Suns within 100-94, and Middleton committed the Bucks’ 19th turnover of the game at the other end to hush the home crowd.
The Bucks had clawed back to reclaim the lead with Antetokounmpo’s consecutive free throws with 8:08 on the clock in the third. He bullied his way for two more on the ensuing possession following a Booker turnover to breathe life into what had become a stressed, silent home crowd.
Paul scored 13 points in the first half, igniting a 31-point second quarter to lift the Suns out of panic mode.
Phoenix led 47-42 at intermission, holding the Bucks to 34.9 per cent shooting as Antetokounmpo had 17, reviving from a first-quarter disappearing act. Only Portis’ 10 points off the bench, including two three-pointers, helped the Bucks avoid a massive deficit.
In a Finals defined by heroic individual efforts, a hapless rock fight broke out in the first half. The Bucks went 3 of 17 from three-point range in the first 24 minutes. Phoenix were 4 of 12.
However, it’s not how it starts, it’s how it ends.