Giannis Antetokounmpo fought his way to the edge, trying to keep the Milwaukee Bucks title defense alive. Again and again the ball just wouldn’t drop.
Layups, putbacks — shots that are usually automatic for the two-time MVP and defending NBA champion — bounced to no avail. And the Bucks kept falling.
“I’d rather miss a bunch of shots and keep playing, keep coming and keep being aggressive…than go into passive mode,” the Bucks star said after the Celtics won Game 7 of the semi-finals of the Eastern Conference 109-81 on Sunday to end Milwaukee’s hopes of back-to-back titles.
“I can live with that. I can live giving it my all for the game,” Antetokounmpo said. You just have to live with it.
A year after leading Milwaukee to the NBA title and being voted Finals MVP, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks faded in the final quarter of their last game. The Greek Freak scored 25 points with 20 rebounds and nine assists in all, but shot 10 for 26 in the game, missing six of seven shots in the fourth quarter — including four from inside 6 feet.
When asked if his legs felt heavy after playing a season-high 43 minutes and 9 seconds – including the entire second half until the game went out of reach – Antetokounmpo said: ” Heavy legs. Heavy body. Heavy spirit. Everything was heavy.
“I was just trying to be aggressive,” he added. “At the end of the day, it’s Game 7 and I’m not going to hold the ball and look at the rim.”
Antetokounmpo still had a streak for the record books, registering a triple-double in the opener and missing one in the final by a single assist. He scored 40 or more points three times and had 20 rebounds twice.
Over the seven games, he averaged 29.6 points, 14.7 rebounds and 7.1 assists. He is the first player in NBA history to record 200 points, 100 rebounds and 50 assists in a playoff series.
“The way Giannis has evolved through this series, the way Giannis has played against a really good defensive team, against a lot of good individual defensemen, was like another one of those moments of growth, opportunities for growth,” said Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer.
“I thought he was phenomenal. His scoring, his attack, his play, his selflessness,” he said. “I was beyond impressed.”
After winning his first NBA title — and the Bucks’ first since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then still Lew Alcindor) led them to the championship in 1971 — Antetokounmpo averaged 29.9 points, 11.6 rebounds and 5, 8 assists this season. He finished second in scoring, sixth in rebounds and third in MVP voting while leading Milwaukee to 51 wins and a No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The defending champions knocked out the Bulls in five games and opened a 3-2 lead in the second round. But the Celtics got away with Game 6 in Milwaukee and did it again in the clincher.
Without No. 2 striker Khris Middleton, who missed the series with a sprained ligament in his left knee, Budenholzer relied heavily on his star. Antetokounmpo played 21 of 24 minutes in the first half, all of the third quarter and only came out in the fourth for foul weather.
It was his fourth straight game to play over 40 minutes.
“We definitely played these guys for as long and as much as we could. Maybe it had a little impact on that,” Budenholzer said. “Some nights the ball, you just can’t put it in the basket. … It would have been great if we did a few more, whether it’s lay-ups or open 3s and things like that, or shots that were in and out, but that’s sport.
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